Breast Feeding, Why Doesn’t it Work Out?


You might have read my other blog about choosing what would suit you between breast feeding and formula feeding, (or remember, there is always the choice of both as well!).

I thought I would write about how come it doesn’t always work out for a Mum to breast feed.  Now it might seem a bit weird for me to do that, as it did work out for me (first time – who knows if it will work second time), but I do have friends, and many didn’t manage it, or only did so for a while.  There are many reasons, so I’m going to chat about a few, but would love your views and experiences as well.

1) Lack of Understanding – I’m going to start with this group, but I do think that it is a SMALL number of Mums.  There is no doubt that there are some Mum’s who don’t read books about pregnancy, don’t search the internet and have no interest in the fact that breast feeding is good for the baby.  Everyone else around them formula feeds, and so they are going to as well.  They may be affected by a couple of the other reasons as well.  I also, don’t think that this group is always socio-economic, as I have met the most well-read Mums in the worst areas around me, and the most ignorant in the best.

2) Traumatic Birth – I’m not considering a painful birth traumatic, thats parr for the course really (unless you are a fab meditator!), but it can be traumatic for a Mum when it is longer/shorter than expected, or if medical/surgical interventions happen when not expected.  I kind of get what that very controversial male midwife was saying when he said that pain can help the Mum to adjust to becoming a Mum.  But I don’t think it is just the pain.  I think that it is more wether whatever happens gives the Mum the feeling that they have been through a rite of passage, and if it doesn’t then it does seem to affect their ability to breast feed.  A friend of mine had a very long birth, which ended up with an emergency caesarian.  She bravely attempted to express her milk for 6 weeks, as she hadn’t been able to BF – I’m a rubbish expresser, so I was amazed at how she did.  But at the end of 6 weeks, it was too much and we (her friends) where relieved when she stopped.

3) Lack of Teaching on how to do it – I often wonder what happened in ‘ye olden days’!  There was no option then, so I’m assuming that Mums always found a way to BF.  The fact that I got 2 lots of tuition on how to BF is definitely one of the reasons that I succeeded.  So I’m pretty sure that if a Mum doesn’t get help, and then ends up with INCREDIBLY painful bleeding nipples, then it’s a brave woman that keeps going.  I suspect that in ‘ye olden days’ there was a community of Mums who would help out, but that there were also babies that died from ‘lacking to thrive’.

4) Lack of Milk – Now I’ve got plenty of ‘spare me’, eat plenty and drink plenty of water, but even I have noticed how what I eat disrupts the supply.  (I never had a plentiful supply, like some Mums who can literally hit the opposite wall with the jet stream!).  There are definitely some Mums who don’t realise how much they have to eat and drink to keep it going, or they don’t have anyone around to help them (I was planning at one point to pay the teenager next door to come in & make me a cup of tea every day after school, it’s not easy to feed yourself with a new baby!).

5) Stress – This is probably the biggest culprit of them all.  A Mum who desperately wants to BF her baby, because she thinks that she ‘Should’ and that otherwise she is a ‘bad mother’, can get really stressed in those first few days.  As you know, my whole premise is that when the Mum is balanced and content, the family tends to just settle around them, and this is particularly true in this instance.  If you happen to be reading this and feeling soooooo guilty, then do me a favour.  Sit down and think about the advantages that your baby will have if you end up formula feeding (there are as many benefits to BF’ing as there are to FF’ing).  For example, ease of going out into public, involvement of other members of the family in the feeding process, comfort in being taken care of by other people, a more energetic mum (there is no doubt about it BF’ing is tiring).  Keep going until the stress reduces and then make the decision that works best for you and suits your family (see my other blog).

6) Exhaustion & Pain – It is a painful experience in the beginning and it takes a certain degree of determination to continue.  Someone promised me it would stop after 6 weeks, and I just held out until then.  But I can understand if a Mum didn’t.  I certainly wouldn’t have continued if the pain hadn’t reduced!!!  The stomach cramps are lovely, because you know it’s making you slimmer, but I used to get really painful ‘let down’ pains too – ooouch!  I went to the doctor in exhaustion and he didn’t give me any assistance at all.  As I left, I was in tears, and a neighbour of mine, who I hardly knew at all, saw me, took one look at said a magic word ‘Floradix’.  It’s a liquid iron supplement for pregnant and nursing mothers, and for me, it has been incredible.  There are several on the market and you can get them from chemists and supermarkets.  Then at 6 months, away for a family funeral, I again hit a wall, because I was attempting to do the ‘right thing’ and keep my baby in a cot.  But he didn’t want to be in it!  My husband turned round to me and said ‘why don’t you just sleep with him’, and after reading some fab books about it, I realised why it would suit me, hubby and the little one.

7) Medical reasons – Then of course there are some Mums who can’t feed their babies because of the medication that they are on.  There is an amazing Mum that I know, who has managed to BF her baby for over a year, despite having narcolepsy (sudden falling to sleep) and therefore not being able to take her pills.  Some Mums might not want to mix anti-depressants and BF’ing.  There are tonnes of reasons.  The most important thing for a Mum to think of here, is that baby would prefer Mum to be healthy and around, they don’t care that they are being fed formula.

8) ‘Sexual Issues’ – I forgot about this one when I first wrote this blog, so I’m cheekily adding it in!  This is a very ‘british’ issue.  Complaints about ‘boobs being for my partner’, or discomfort about a baby so close to something that has in the past been sexual.  I even knew someone who was totally freaked out by the baby looking at her – which is what so many Mums quote as being the ‘best’ bit.  Now this might be a bit trickier, but if you are struggling with this let me know and I’ll give you some ideas to overcome it (if you want to – no worries if you don’t).

So you can see, there are tonnes of reasons why it might not or doesn’t work out.  So please, don’t feel guilty if it didn’t work for you, and don’t get on too a high horse about the fact that it did work, sometimes it is just the luck of the draw.  Please do let me know if there are other reasons that I haven’t included, or if some of these ring true with you.

Update Jan 2010

A fascinating article has just been printed in the mail and BBC websites suggesting that breast feeding isn’t better for babies than formula, but that breast feeding is just a sign of a healthier time in the womb, which tends to create the ability to BF.  The research is based upon Professor Sven Carlsen from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim who has found a link with higher levels of the male hormone testosterone during pregnancy, which makes it more difficult to produce milk, and tends to appear more in.  So Mums with PCOS, carrying a boy, smokers, small/premature babies, are more likely to have problems.  There is potentially still a slightly higher IQ average in BF babies, but they haven’t had a chance to review those studies yet.  So, although I loved BF’ing, and would thoroughly recommend it, I also recommend being grateful that we have an option.  Check out my other blog about how to make the choice: <click here>

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12 thoughts on “Breast Feeding, Why Doesn’t it Work Out?

  1. Great points well made here. The whole BF thing is definitely a rite of passage, for me I think it was far more emotionally charged than the birth.

    In the past babies were fed either by a wet nurse or from a bottle. This has been happening since pre-roman times. I think that there is a Roman babies bottle somewhere in Verulamium Museum (if I recall correctly. Some women simply cant do it and this has been the case for over two thousand years. In more modern times, wealthy women were encouraged not to do it and that is where wet nursing as a profession really came into its own.

    In the case of my first born the BF advice I was given was totally wrong for him health wise as he had a condition called Silent Acid Reflux and feeding on demand every hour or so was actually making it worse.

    In terms of the socio-economic thing Stefi did a brilliant post http://mummydothat.blogspot.com/2009/06/what-is-often-overlooked-in-breast.html

    • Yep, wasn’t it the rise in ‘wet nursing’ that caused the rise in Mums dieing because of having too many children, too close together, without any of the contraceptive (ish) side effects of BF’ing?
      Interesting about the reflux and BF’ing not working – that’s very useful to know.
      Brilliant link to Stefi, thanku – so it is much more socio-economic than I thought.
      Just realised I forgot the other ‘british’ issue – sex & boobs – will add it!

    • Had another thought – is it just the ‘europeans’ who went through this wet nurse thing? The worldwide average age for BF’ing is 4yrs old – so it must be much more ‘normal’ elsewhere. Plus, I wonder when the socio-economic thing changed – maybe it was a status thing to be able to feed by formula?
      That Roman bottle you’ve seen – would that have been in a rich person’s house – surely the ‘poor’ were BF’ing then?

  2. A very comprehensive post! I wonder whether the choice between formula feeding and breast-feeding is partly down to what the women around you do. All my friends did if they could (some had problems and stopped early, but they all tried) and being from the continent I never had an issue about breast-feeding in public or in front of visitors (and I had fun watching those turned away eyes!). If everyone around you breast-feeds and for some reason it doesn’t work for you, the guilt trip is programmed. I’m sure it works the other way – if people around you all formula feed, it’s harder to make the choice to breast-feed.

    I’ve added an update http://mummydothat.blogspot.com/2009/07/postscript-to-my-take-on-breastfeeding.html to my previous post which zooarchaeologist linked to, just adding some statistics, and there’s also a post outlining my experience of breast-feeding (which ended up to be mixed feeding, and up to age 2) some time soon.

  3. I’m very interested that you say you did baby led weaning but that your 1st did not really get into food until peer pressure kicked in at nursury at 18months. My 1st is now 14 1/2 months and still on 80/90% boob! He’ll try anything, but doesn’t have much more than a taste. I sit and watch other kids, much younger than him, chase birds in the park for a bit of bread, and sqwawk at their carers knees to be fed, but mine is too busy playing and rarely comes to me until we get home when he wants boob – and lots of it. He still feeds lots before bed, several times in the night (he mostly sleeps with me so I just have to roll over), lots more in the morning, and then more before a mid morning nap. After that, he can be out for five or six hours, with only a snack or two of solids and water to keep him going. So it can take him days to finish just one of those Ellas Kitchen purees…

    Having said all this, he’s big (98th weight centile) and very active / alert etc, so i’m not worried, I’m just interested how very long it’s taking him to wean, given the choice. Also, given that i’m not planning to send him to nursury any time soon, so there’s no sign of any real peer pressure coming up, I’m just wondering how long it really will take…

    Any comments from other baby let weaners appreciated!

    • Hiya Jenny,
      Yes, you are right it was about 18months that Max’s ability and interest in food improved. Probably partially because he started 2 mornings per week at nursery. They had an open plan kitchen & cooked in front of the kids, so that plus peer pressure seemed to increase his interest. Eventually over a long period of time he increased to 3 full days – and it was great as a pretty awful cook, because on those days he’d been fed every 2hrs and I only needed to supplement with scrambled egg or beans on toast ;o)
      Re the cutting back on bfeeding – I was quite gentle about this with Max and just followed a combination of my own intuition as to when he had matured enough to cut back one of the feeds plus whether it was still working for me. I was gentle because my Mum died whilst I was pregnant, and although Max is an independent little soul, there were signs of immaturity and an extra need in him, that I felt needed to be listened to. But each time I did cut back, he was quite happy and we ended up with just a morning & evening feed for ages. Then the morning feed went due to circumstances (surprising as it was his favourite) and finally the evening, when I explained that he couldn’t get the baby sister/brother he wanted if I was feeding (a slight porky, but he was definitely old enough by then – quite a lot later).

      • Jenny – one other thought – loads of nutritionists bemoan our lack of drinking liquid and tendency to rely on solids. I have no proof of this, but have often wondered if it is to do with the weaning phase and Mums cutting back on liquid because the child eats solids.
        Anyway, let me know in a month or two if it has become more of a concern for you – you can always log a question on my facebook fan page.http://www.facebook.com/MummyWhisperer

  4. Can I also add a c-section as a reason for BFing not working out? Having only ever had c-sections, I can’t really say for sure, but I’m told that the recovery from a c-section is longer and more tiring than from a ‘normal birth’. I feel this is more likely to make a new mum want to share feeding in the early days so she can get some sleep, hence using a bottle. (I know all the books say you should express, but I couldn’t express enough in the first few weeks to make it worth the effort – it was less hassle to be woken up every couple of hours).

    Also, my milk came in late due to my first c-section, meaning I had to formula feed for a few days then pump furiously around the clock to match my supply up with my baby’s demand. Nightmare. I wouldn’t blame any new mum for giving up in that situation, if it hadn’t been for a very encouraging partner I would have given up myself.

  5. […] You might want to check out my blog on why Breast Feeding isn’t always possible, to help reduce your guilt <click here> […]

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