7 Reasons to Forgive Yourself for Not Breastfeeding

by Emily Griffin, MSW, LICSW, LCSW-C
Originally Published: 
A woman sitting on the bed bent over her and hugging her knees covered with a white silk bedsheet

Breastfeeding ​is the most primal and first tangible way we can show our undying commitment to nurturing the little person we have brought into this world.

But how does it feel for a mom who has a health condition that requires a medication that may harm her baby through the breast milk? What about a mom who has gone back to work for long hours, struggling to keep up her milk supply and feeling overwhelming stress because of it? Or maybe a mom who’s baby has been diagnosed by the pediatrician as showing “failure to thrive” and advised to give the baby formula, despite all of her efforts to increase her milk production?

How do those moms feel when they ultimately decide to give their baby formula?

There are many reasons a mom many choose to not breastfeed (or can’t), and these moms often feel judged by others, “not good enough,” or guilty for resorting to formula.

As a mom who has coped with this difficult issue myself, I know how important it is to accept and forgive yourself when giving your baby formula. Here are seven reasons to forgive yourself for not breastfeeding:

1. Letting feelings of guilt, shame, fear, and disappointment ruminate affects your baby and how he or she attaches to you. Babies are perceptive little beings and feel the energy you are bringing to the room, even if you think you’re covering it up with coos and kisses.

2. New parents often set their expectations too high. Other families may seem like they have it all together but as a society, we tend to not be open about our early struggles with parenthood.

3. Prioritizing your self-care ultimately benefits your baby because when you are healthy, physically and emotionally, you are better able to connect and attend to your baby’s needs. When we are preoccupied with stress and helplessness, the brain is no longer working clearly and not able to respond to the present situation appropriately.

4. Even with formula, you can foster a deep attachment that lays the foundation for a lifetime. Breastfeeding is not THE determining factor of raising a well-adjusted, healthy happy child. Cuddling, talking, singing, getting down and doing tummy time together, dancing, going for walks, and many other meaningful moments do not rely on the breast.

5. What others think does not have to define you. Don’t let what might be perceived as other’s judgment negatively impact your enjoyment and attachment. To those family members and friends who you care to inform, let them know your reason for formula feeding and be prepared for them to echo the expectation in various forms of “breast is best.” I found myself lying to the hospital nurse when I delivered because I didn’t want to hear a speech. I already knew what she was taught to say, but I was clear about what was best for me and had previously discussed with my midwife about my decision making (which was hard, but necessary). You don’t have to explain to everyone, just those who matter to you.

6. While it has been established that “breast is best,” this statement is not intended to mean “breast is best at all costs.” If you are overwhelmed with a sense of failure and feeling like you can’t enjoy your baby, please reach out for support and be honest about how you feel.

7. Your decision to be honest and let go of the shame and guilt can ultimately empower someone else. Those of us who don’t breastfeed are not bad moms. It is often a selfless decision that has resulted from a painful set of circumstances that have diminished a period that we would have liked to experience as pure joy. The mom may have felt like she tried everything to continue breastfeeding and the resulting sense of failure has developed a depressive cloud over the fragile mom-baby connection. However, it is often not discussed and therefore the stigma continues.

Related post: Breastfeeding Is No Fairytale

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