Breastfeeding and Guilt - My Perspective

>> Saturday, May 16, 2009

This morning on Twitter @realbabymilk posted a link to an article written by Dr. Jack Newman regarding breastfeeding & guilt. It is one of the best articles I have ever read about the topic. It got me thinking about my own breastfeeding challenges and my lack of guilt over having to use a bottle & formula.

I've breastfed all of my children. I haven't breastfed them all successfully though. Please don't take what I am about to say as I think formula is just as good as breastmilk. I don't and I never have. Breast is best and yes, breastfeeding is normal.

My oldest child was only breastfed for about 3 months. During the first week or so following his birth, the Dr. told me that he wasn't getting enough milk and I needed to supplement some feedings with formula. Did the Doctor ever check to see if I was latching the baby on properly? No. Did he ever ask how many times I was feeding and how long the baby was feeding? No. Just by weight gain (which I'm fairly certain was based on a formula company's chart) he told me that I needed to supplement. He sent me off with a few bottles of formula and that was that. Did I feel guilty about giving my baby formula? No. Did I stop breastfeeding? No. Luckily my mom had told me just keep breastfeeding and to do it more often. He was a small baby and I was waiting 3-4 hours to feed. I had taken a prenatal class on the military base and this is what I was told to do. My mom told me that breastfeed babies need to be fed more often than that and especially since he was so small. I think I only supplemented for 1 or 2 days and then just went back to full time nursing. The baby never again had a problem with weight gain.

Then about 2 months later I needed to go on antibiotics and was told that I would have to stop breastfeeding. So I did what the doctor told me to do. I never felt guilty. I did what I had to do, what the doctor told me was right. Now in defense of the doctor that time - she did try several other antibiotics and they weren't working. So it was a last resort. Could I still have kept on nursing? I don't know. If I was told that now, I have a better resource to check with before just agreeing with the first person that tells me I need to stop breastfeeding. I still don't feel guilt over stopping. I did the best I could with the knowledge I had at the time.

My second child was breastfed for nearly 6 months before being diagnosed as "failure to thrive". At which point, I was told I had to stop breastfeeding and give the baby formula. The doctor at the time initially had me come in several times for weight checks, but never once referred me to a lactation consultant to make sure we were breastfeeding properly. She never once asked me how often the baby feeding or how many wet diapers. I'm fairly certain that once again they were using a weight chart provided by a formula company. But the doctor told me my baby wasn't thriving on my breastmilk. Why would I doubt what she knows? She went to medical school. I stopped breastfeeding, gave my baby formula and he gained weight. By the second week on formula it was like looking at a different child. I never felt guilty for stopping breastfeeding. I did what I had to do for my child with the knowledge I had at the time. I know more now, and I would fight harder now if a doctor suggested I stop breastfeeding, but I don't feel guilty now for what happened then.

I listen to women talk about feeling guilty for not being able to breastfeed for one reason or another, and I wonder why I don't feel that guilt. Do I think it's sad I was possibly robbed out of breastfeeding my children for longer? Sure I do! But I did what I thought was best at that time with the knowledge that I had. It isn't my fault that these doctors didn't know more about breastfeeding and the logistics of it, so why should I feel guilty for trusting them? We are brought up and taught that they can and should be trusted. I don't think that the majority of doctors are setting out to intentionally sabotage the breastfeeding relationship, they just aren't informed enough. Add into that equation that the formula companies have their own agenda and are arming them with the ideas that it really doesn't matter what the baby gets as long as the baby eats. I don't believe that any of this should cause you guilt though, sadness sure but guilt - let it go, it isn't your fault.

I listen to some women talk about how they were made to feel guilty because they couldn't breastfeed or they chose not to breastfeed. I have never ran into a situation where someone has made me feel guilty for stopping breastfeeding. I am very much pro-breastfeeding. I hear the stories of mom's who say "I was sent home 24 hours after I had my baby, and the next day the baby would just cry if he wasn't nursing. So I didn't have enough milk and had to give my baby formula." Sometimes I might say, "oh you probably would have had enough milk, but the baby was trying to get your milk in and to the level he needed". I don't say that to make you feel guilty though. You may have another child and I want you to understand what is happening so if you attempt to breastfeed again you have knowledge on your side. I honestly feel that if you run into people that "make you feel guilty" it isn't intentional. Sure there maybe the few that are judgmental, but I think most breastfeeding moms realize it isn't this a romantic, easy process that just happens. It takes a lot of work and a lot of knowledge and most importantly good support.

If you chose not to breastfeed and you researched the risks of formula feeding, and not just by reading a few leaflets sent out by formula companies; then why should you feel guilt for making a good, informed decision? If you are feeling guilty then it's only because you are second guessing your choices. That is not anyone else's fault though, so please don't say some pro-breastfeeding mother is making you feel guilty. As a parent you can not constantly second guess your choices, that isn't good parenting either. And most importantly don't try to undermine someone's breastfeeding relationship just because you chose not to breastfeed. That was your choice and you want to be respected for that. Please have the same respect for a mother that chooses to breastfeed. Don't tell her "if you just give him a bottle he'll sleep longer" or "if you just give him a bottle you can have more freedom". She made a choice, respect and support that choice.

So how can we move past this guilt? I think we have to understand that as individual parents we are all trying to do the best we can for our children. We do the best we can with the knowledge we have at any given time. The only thing we can do is strive to learn more and do better. Guilt isn't going to do you or your children any good. It's like living in the past. Let the guilt go it'll keep you from enjoying the moments of the present.

Have a thought you'd like to share about breastfeeding and guilt? Please leave a comment, I'm interested in hearing what you have to say.


Glenni Lorick May 16, 2009 at 11:52 PM  

I'm an IBCLC, so I'm about as pro-breastfeeding as you can get. I want to Thank You for this post! You did a great job of explaining why moms shouldn't feel guilty. Breastfeeding is NOT what makes a good mom!

Anonymous,  May 19, 2009 at 1:15 AM  

I think it's great that you can recognize that you made the best choices you could with the information you had. Really, that's all that any of us can do as parents.

And thanks for the link to that article. It's great!

Natural Mom Loves Prada May 19, 2009 at 1:25 AM  

I get the feeling that the guilt comes from knowing that we could have had the information if we had, asked, looked, read or even just been a little more together in that moment.
I don't think the guilt is about the actual choice that we made, perhaps realizing that we didn't make a choice, we just followed poor advice or in some cases no advice at all.

Anonymous,  May 19, 2009 at 10:03 PM  

I am happy that you had some success. I wanted so badly to breastfeed, and pumped my milk for 6 weeks because I was not able to get my babies to latch on. My poor (wonderful) lactation consultants would leave my room after 20 minutes of frustration unsure of how to fix the situation. Many a tearful night at 3 am later, with both baby and me red-faced and frustrated, I began bottle feeding. Unfortunately, my husband's family told me that I "just wasn't doing it right." and heard the "tsk tsk tsk" when I prepared formula. So NO, the guilt was NOT all in my mind, and breastfeeding moms CAN be insensitive too.

Krista May 20, 2009 at 1:51 PM  


Good for you for pumping for 6wks. I'm sorry that you had such a time with your breastfeeding experience. There could be many reasons for the unsuccessful latch and I’d be interested in hearing your story. Was the baby suctioned, were you medicated during delivery, was the baby tongue-tied, and were the lactation consultant’s board certified?
I never once implied that the guilt was in anyone's head or that some breastfeeding moms couldn't be insensitive. I said that I have never run into any, but I did say that there could be some judgmental ones out there.
But you know what; no matter what you do as a parent someone is going to criticize it. If you vaccinate someone will criticize that, if you don't they will attack you for that. If you co-sleep someone will criticize that, if you don't they could assume you are a rigid parent. The list could go on and on. Every aspect of your life can be criticized by someone, somewhere. So the choice is yours, let that criticism define you and your relationship with your child OR let it and the guilt they are trying to make you feel go. No one is you; no one walked your path. Don’t let other people make you feel guilty; you did the best you could at the time. That’s all any of us can do.

CyberCelt May 20, 2009 at 5:39 PM  

I loved breast feeding. No bottles, formula or mess. I would just roll over and put a boob in my son's mouth.

It was hard to break him of the habit though. When he was FIVE my sisters took him to Houston for a week so I could dry up and he could get over it.

I had a lactation specialist when I had my child. This RN came 60 miles because I was desperate. My breast were like missiles and I could not get my son to latch on.

I told my friend who was having a baby to make sure one visited her. She said she could not find one. She also could not find Lamaze classes. What a cold world to send a mom to delivery without coaching and to nurse without help.

Stopping by for WW:

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