In an attempt to #NormalizeBreastfeeding (which need to happen, don't get me wrong) breastfeeding is held up as the end-all-be-all way to feed your child. Rhetoric like "breast is best" is continually regurgitated in mom groups and online forums. New moms are told "breastfeeding is natural," so every woman should be able to breastfeed and with little or no trouble. However, many women can't physically breastfeed, which means the choice to breastfeed is essentially taken away from them. The worst ways to respond to your inability to breastfeed, unfortunately, are responses far too many women use when they are physically unable to breastfeed, because while #NormalizingBreastfeeding is important and ending the social stigma surrounding breastfeeding (especially publicly) is important, it shouldn't come at the price of so many women's emotional, physical, and mental health, or their feelings of self-worth.
If you find that you are unable to breastfeed — whether that be as soon as your baby is born or later on in their life — it can be an incredibly rattling and difficult thing to handle (especially if you had your heart set on breastfeeding). I know because I was one of those people. I knew that some women are not able to breastfeed at all so I had mentally prepared myself for that possibility before I tried breastfeeding my daughter. However, I thought that if I could breastfeed initially, my supply would remain relatively the same until I needed and wanted my daughter to start weaning. Sadly, I was wrong.
My supply disappeared completely after only six weeks of breastfeeding and I soon found myself having to learn how to cope with that loss, amongst the "breast is best" and "breastfeeding is natural" messages. I was a difficult transition, and it wasn't easy to be kind to myself when I heard from so many people (directly or indirectly) that I had "failed." So, if you're struggling with the realization that you're not physically able to breastfeed, my advice is as follows: don't give in to negativity and respond to your inability to breastfeed in the worst ways possible. Instead, seek out support groups and, most importantly, know that you are not alone.
Blaming It On Your Baby
If you can't breastfeed, it's not your baby's fault. Whether they were born prematurely or they weren't able to get a proper latch or any other reason, it's not their fault. It's easy to want to find some reason (read: any reason) why breastfeeding isn't going according to your plan — and exhaustion can make even your baby seem like a reasonable scape goat — but it's not their fault. Just like it isn't yours.
Blaming It On Your Body
Your body might be a source of the breastfeeding issues — like low milk supply or no milk supply at all or a number of other complications — but it's not your body's fault. Remember, your body just did an incredible thing; it grew and birthed a human being. Don't hate on your body for not being physically able to breastfeed. After all, it's physically able to do so many other wondrous, absolutely amazing things.
Giving Up Without First Getting Help...
At the end of the day, you're the only person who should be making your decisions about your own body. However, if you want to keep trying, don't feel like you have to give up the moment something goes "wrong." There are people — like lactation consultants, doctors, even friends and family members with experience — who can help. You don't have to put yourself at risk of suffering physically, mentally or emotionally, but you don't have to give up right away, either.
....Continuing After Help Hasn't Worked
However, don't feel like you're a "bad mom" if you're at the end of your metaphorical rope and honestly just can't continue. Sacrificing your sanity, your health, and your wellness is not worth it. Your baby wants a happy and healthy mother, so if formula feeding means your baby gets that healthy and happy mom they need, so be it. After all, formula exists for a reason.
There's nothing to feel ashamed about. This isn't your fault and you haven't failed and there's no reason to beat yourself up or be horrible to yourself (or your body) just because something didn't go according to plan. You're still a wonderful mother and there's nothing you need to "hide."
Letting Someone Shame You Or Judge You
What is going on in your family, with your body and your baby, is no one's business. No one knows your body or your baby or your family, like you do. Will people have opinions and probably judge you or shame you? Sadly, yes. However, you don't need to spend time listening to them and you definitely don't need to take anything they say seriously. They don't know your situation like you do, and they never will.
Calling Yourself Useless
If you cannot breastfeed, one of the absolute worst things you could do is to call yourself useless. You are not useless. You are not alone and you are definitely not the first, and your inability to breastfeed is not indicative of how you will continue to parent your child. You have a purpose and your baby still needs you for all the years to come.
Telling Yourself You "Took The Easy Way Out"
When you have a baby, there is no easy way out of anything. Breastfeeding is difficult. Feeding your baby formula when you've planned to exclusively breastfeed, is difficult. I'm guessing you've probably exhausted every single option and put yourself through endless nights of little sleep and probably physical discomfort (or even pain), drinking teas and eating cookies and seeing lactation consultants and doing everything you possibly could to make breastfeeding work for you and your baby. Nothing about that, is "easy."
Convincing Yourself You're Somehow Letting Your Baby Down
You only hurt your baby if you don't feed them at all. If you can't breastfeed, formula feeding is a perfectly acceptable and will help your baby receive all the necessary nutrients they need to thrive. Trust me, you aren't hurting them if you choose to put them on formula if you can't breastfeed.
Letting Yourself Think You're A Bad Mom
You are in no way a bad mom. Some moms can breastfeed. Others can't. It depends on the individual and everyone is different.
In other words, be kind to yourself. You're doing great, and your baby is in awe of you — whether you can breastfeed or not.