Yes, I don’t believe it’s entirely your fault that you are struggling with breastfeeding. (That’s not to say that you can’t breastfeed or don’t have any control over it.) I think most of our public health and private programs that aim to help with breastfeeding forget that we live in a very different situation than ever before in human history when it comes to breastfeeding and childbearing. So here are the six reasons why it’s not your fault that you are struggling with breastfeeding…
Reason #1: Anatomical issues
Tongue-tie, lip-tie, hypoplastic breasts… these can all cause difficulties with breastfeeding. In these cases, you or your baby were the unfortunate winners of a genetic lottery. However, you can still breastfeed even with these issues. In the case of hypoplastic breasts, you may not be able to give a full milk supply (or maybe you can), but you can partially breastfeed and use a supplementary nursing system to get your baby at the breast when you give supplementary feedings with formula.
With tongue-tie and lip-tie, it’s super important that you have a competent professional who knows how to effectively care for these conditions. Unfortunately, you can’t just walk into the average pediatrician or dentist’s office and get informed advice on tongue-tie and lip-tie, which is why I included an entire detailed section of it in my curriculum.
Please, please, please do your research and learn before you get your baby evaluated or treated for tongue-tie! That way you can do it right instead of getting an ineffective frenotomy that has to be revised later on!!!
Reason #2: Most women around you don’t breastfeed
The first infant formulas were introduced around 150 years ago and breastfeeding rates started dropping. Think about it. For most of human history, the vast majority of women breastfed their babies. Never before in human history have we lived in a time where so many women did not participate in this biological function. If most of the women around you didn’t breastfeed or breastfed only a short time before moving to formula, it’s difficult to establish a baseline of what’s even normal.
Reason #3: Hospitals aren’t always breastfeeding friendly
UNICEF has spear-headed the Baby Friendly Hospital initiative, though some hospitals are still not on board. And even those that are certified as Baby Friendly may not always follow guidelines for encouraging breastfeeding.
Also, gentle/natural/family-centered cesareans that allow the mother skin-to-skin contact with her baby are still pretty rare here in the US. (Though they totally rock for moms and babies who need them!!!) And of course there is the elephant in the room that most births do not require cesarean delivery thought 1/3 of all births in the US are c-sections. C-sections can make it more difficult to breastfeed- though not impossible. (I have known plenty of c-section moms who have breastfed successfully.)
Reason #4: The medical and health professions haven’t caught up
It wasn’t about the late 1970’s that scientific research started coming out with all the benefits of breastfeeding over formula feeding. So it wasn’t that long ago that doctors were recommending formula. By that time, breastfeeding had become more or less a dying art.
On top of that, the climate of maternity and neonatal care has changed dramatically since that time. We have more mothers delivering by c-section. We also have more premies and babies with birth defects in the NICU who would not have survived before because technology or medical practice was not in place to preserve their lives. A micro-premie may not have survived 40 years ago and a baby with spina bifida may have been denied care, but we now have better care for premature babies and medical ethics now dictates that babies with spina bifida receive care. So we have a whole lot of special cases with a more limited base of knowledge among medical and lactation professionals.
Reason #5: No one told you that some kind of complication would come up.
Did you go through pregnancy thinking that breastfeeding is normal and therefore easy and then get blindsided by some complication you could not have anticipated in your wildest dreams? Welcome to the club. When I was pregnant with my oldest, I was going to be the perfect breastfeeding mom. I read up on all those breastfeeding positions, determined that I was going to get it right. Then I ended up having a baby who needed back surgery at 36 hours old and all those breastfeeding positions went out the window. during my observation, I heard one mother remark, “It’s like they don’t want to tell us something could go wrong because they’re afraid we might not breastfeed.”
Reason #6: Breastfeeding has been presented to you as an all-or-nothing endeavor.
If you have hypoplastic breasts or had certain types of breast surgery, exclusive breastfeeding may not be in the cards for you. Biologically speaking, there are some cases where it won’t work out. But any degree of breastfeeding is still beneficial for both moms and babies. This isn’t a zero-sum game. Breastfeeding may be different for you than your neighbor, friend, sister or cousin, but you and your baby can still get many of the benefits!