Can you fail at breastfeeding?

Society, not mothers, are to blame for women not achieving their breastfeeding goals

Can you fail at breastfeeding?

I saw an amazing breastfeeding post today. As a birthworker that’s really nothing new….I see breastfeeding posts all the time. But this one had so many comments from mummas who were feeling sad that they “failed” at breastfeeding.

This makes me so very sad. These women have gone, who knows how long, feeling like they failed at an aspect of mothering.

Now, I’m not going to jump on the “it doesn’t matter what your feed your kid as long as they’re fed” bandwagon. That’s not my space. My space is the “Society fails mothers time and time again” space.

If breastfeeding didn’t work for you it’s HIGHLY unlikely that you failed.

Generally non-breastfeeding falls into 3 categories:

  1. You have a medical indication for not breastfeeding or a physical reason why it simply can’t happen. Only a very small percentage of women fall into this category. If this is you, you didn’t fail any more than someone who gets cancer “failed”. You got dealt a crappy hand and did the best you could for yourself and your baby. Good on you!
  2. You made a choice not to breastfeed because of previous sexual or emotional trauma. Only a fairly small percentage of women fall into this category as well. If this is you – you did the best you could for yourself and your baby in a shit situation. You are a survivor. Good on you!
  3. You got given crappy advice or were not adequately supported. The vast majority of women fall into this category. Think: The nurse who suggested topping baby with a bottle of formula so that you could sleep; the care provider who failed to find a lip or tongue tie in your baby; the paediatrician who suggested that you were “overfeeding” your baby by having them at the breast all the time or the mother in law who insisted on being allowed to give baby a bottle while you “get things done”. How about: The partner who feels that breastfeeding in public is not acceptable and insisted that you pump and feed baby a bottle when in public; or the employer who doesn’t allow flexible working hours to accommodate pumping or breastfeeding; the society that tells us that we should be “up and at ‘em” within minutes of birthing our baby; the people reinforcing the idea that breastfeeding is “too hard” or “not worth it” and suggesting that mothers who breastfeed do so more for themselves than their babies.If you fall into this category please know that you did awesome! Support and knowledge are the biggest factors in achieving our breastfeeding goals and these can be exceptionally hard to come by. During my first breastfeeding journey I had a child health nurse actually tell me NOT to seek support or advice because I would just be told to starve my baby. That’s what we’re up against…
  4. And it looks like I was wrong…there is a fourth category of non-breastfeeding. All those women who fell into the third category for their first journey and then elected not to begin breastfeeding the second time around because they were either so traumatised by their previous experience or they truly felt that they simply couldn’t do it. And you know what? You didn’t fail either. You made the best choice that you could with the information, experience and support that you had. Good on you!

The only failings around breastfeeding are with care providers who dish out dodgy advice, people who suggest that you stop breastfeeding as a way to solve your breastfeeding problems and a society that, as usual, is undervaluing mothering. Because if society places value on breastfeeding then it would need to acknowledge the value of mothers. And we can’t have these mothers believing they are necessary for the health and wellbeing of their babies, can we?! By promoting the use of formula a baby can, basically, be fed and cared for by anyone – freeing up the mother to support the capitalist paradigm.

I really hope that you can now look back on your breastfeeding journey (even if you never once breastfed your baby) and understand that you did not fail. You did the best you could with the information, experience and support that you had.

And that is a success.

Breastfeeding - a wedding photo with a baby breastfeeding
Support is vital for achieving your breastfeeding goals
License: Creative Commons CC0.


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