Mommy Guilt……or is it Grief?

You plan to breastfeed, you hear it’s really great (for you and for the baby!) and its natural (sure to be easy!!). You see pictures of breastfeeding in those baby magazines, everyone looks so relaxed and fresh!  You take a prental class, and learn how to know it’s “go time” and also what your options are for pain relief.  You get one class on baby care and they mentioned breastfeeding but it was mostly about those first few hours (skin to skin!), no pacifiers, no bottles, baby’s cues.


The baby arrives! The birth might not have been what you envisioned, you can’t believe how sore you are and while you recover they are letting you leave the hospital with this tiny human that you don’t feel very prepared to care for!   The breastfeeding in those early days is varying degrees of painful (not normal!), you are told your baby is jaundiced, or lost too much weight or will not latch at all, so you have to give your baby a bottle (not the plan) of formula (also not the plan)  Ummmm, where was this information in that class?!?!

No problem though, because you’ll just go to your doctor and get some help. Oh, wait, your doctor got even less training than you did in that prenatal class.  So you get help and a plan and still you are struggling.  You don’t know where else to go.  Topping up after feeds and/or  pumping after feeds leaves you feeling overwhelmed and even more tired.  Or it’s so painful you can’t even put the baby to your breast without crying or more damage. Or topping up with bottles of pumped milk seems like less work than even trying at the breast. Or no matter what all the “experts” say, no one can get your baby to latch.  And overtime it just gets more and more unsustainable.  So you end up, little by little changing your plan from breastfeeding to something else.  And you feel guilty.


But, is that what you are feeling? Did you do the best that you could with the information you had? Did you get informed choice from your health care providers? Did your breastfeeding support use evidence based information to help you meet your goals?  Often breastfeeding parents think they feel guilty for having to use formula.  There is no guilt in these situations; I believe what many are feeling is GRIEF.  They need to grieve their plan to breastfeed.  When that doesn’t work out, you need to give yourself time to understand what you are feeling.  When you see parents that did meet their goals, you might even feel ANGRY.  Are you angry at them? Are you being shamed by them for not breastfeeding? No.  Those feelings in the post partum period are big and complicated but there is never any need for guilt.  Every parent does the best that they can with the information and situation that they have at the time.

Personally, I figured I would breastfeed when I was pregnant with my first; it was free, always the right temperature and ready to feed at the drop of a hat, oh and all those health benefits for both the baby and I.  I didn’t have a plan, didn’t take any classes but I had a midwife, so I thought that was all I needed to do to prepare.  Then my baby wouldn’t latch.  No one panicked (except me!).  During those early days I finger fed my son formula.  Did that mean the end of our breastfeeding relationship? No.  Did I feel guilty; because I wasn’t giving him ONLY breastmilk? Never.  The number one rule of breastfeeding is feed the baby (this is a LOT different than Fed is Best.  See here  for a great discussion about that).  There are many different ways to do this, some protect the breastfeeding better than others.

My hope is that we all turn that grief into anger and passion; passion to change the current system that not all breastfeeding parents can afford the gold standard of lactation care; the International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).  Often we don’t know who is giving us breastfeeding information and advice. Anyone that calls themselves a Lactation Consultant should be an IBCLC but since it is not a protected title, anyone can.  There are also a few different ways to become an IBCLC, I’ll write more about that in another blog post.

Please follow along on the IBCLC journey in Ontario toward regulation;


Getting Help with Breastfeeding from Facebook

In today’s fast paced culture, where many of us have no close friends or family nearby (or any that breastfeed) it can be so easy to type our questions into Google or Facebook, hoping for a miracle answer. Oh there it is, THAT’s why my baby is doing that!   This can be a great way to feel connected to your community, other parents and not feel so alone.  Until you work up the courage to get outside with your new baby (what if they poop! Or cry! Or want to feed!!!!!) it can be nice to have someone (anyone!) to talk to. Especially other parents who have experienced the newly postpartum worry and anxiety and lived to tell about it (or even have more kids!!). My concern with this way of getting advice or help for breastfeeding includes;

Experience – Parents have had (on average) 1-5 children. Maybe they know another 20 or so children (friends and families children).  In the training to be an IBCLC, I needed to spend a minimum of 500 hours with breastfeeding families, mentored by an IBCLC. If an average visit was 2 hours, then that is over 250 families! My point is advice from other parents is based on their goals, situation and advice they were given for their particular situation.  In this training I also see babies from birth until weaning so that is a wide range of ages, milestones and different techniques for different age children.

Questions -Then there is the history taking; an IBCLC asks LOTS of questions. Sometimes they are personal, and there is never judgement, we just need to know what is going on, what YOU feel comfortable with and what you can do at home. It doesn’t help anyone if I can latch the baby or get you pain-free, because I’m not coming home with you. My goal is to teach you how to get a pain-free latch, tell when the baby is getting milk and what to do when they are not.  The people responding on Facebook are often quick to give advice (from a place of wanting to help of course!) without asking questions. In regards to breastfeeding sometimes this can be outdated, not evidence based or even detrimental to breastfeeding.

In person – The computer and virtual world is great but it does lack the hands on help.  Often a full exam of the baby and assistance trying multiple positions can be helpful in person.  Finding comfortable ways to hold your baby, while enabling the baby to get milk effectively can take some time. I find it so helpful to see how families are coping with a new child, where they breastfeed, where the baby sleeps; all these pieces come together when I am making a plan for a family to help them reach their breastfeeding goals.

Cost- Facebook and online help is great because it’s free (other than what you paid for the computer and the internet connection).  There is other free breastfeeding help available too; through public health, in the hospital you delivered at, your midwives.  But sometimes that help is not enough.  They maybe familiar with babies of a certain age or experiencing certain difficulties but if the help you are getting right now is not getting you to your goals or it still hurts or you are having to feed the baby at the breast/pump/topping up with formula;look at the cost of not meeting those goals. Sometimes a short-term outlay of a larger amount seems like a lot, however if you look at the cost of the alternative for a year, the cost in the beginning is actually not that much.

So reach out, ask for help, ask why you are not reaching your goals, ask families not for advice but who has helped them reach their goals.

If you ever have any questions or comments, something you want me to write about? Feel free to contact me.


How will my partner bond with my breastfed baby?

Many families I see in their homes or at the breastfeeding clinic where I work ask a similar question; when can they “safely” introduce a bottle so their partner can feed the baby.  There are a few aspects to think about here;


  1. Breastfeeding takes up a lot of your time in those early days – Feeds can be long (normal), frequent(normal) and occur around the clock (normal), however this frequent milk removal and stimulation is what makes milk.  This can be overwhelming (especially if things aren’t going as well as you’d like!) and often partners want to take this on for us.  They sometimes do this by “solving” the problem.  However, in order to give you a “break” by feeding the baby, you will need to pump your breasts so that there is something to give the baby and to protect your milk supply.  This doesn’t sound quite as easy as putting the baby to the breast, does it? Pumping, washing the bottles and pump parts and then getting back to sleep.  Have your lactation consultant show you the side lying position; this can help you get more rest and protect your milk supply without adding in extra work for you or your partner.  Obviously if your current situation is more complicated than this, please seek out additional support from a lactation consultant.

  2. Flow –Most of us have seen the bottles and artificial nipples (or teats) that are “just like the breast”.  This unfortunately is all about marketing (as are most things that are being sold), and no bottle or nipple is like the breast.  Better to save your money and if you do need to give your baby a bottle, use the slowest nipple and slow down the flow(by the way you hold the bottle).  This will never be “just like” the breast, however some babies can tolerate switching back and forth between the breast and the bottle this way. Some, however, will not. If you notice your baby getting fussier at the breast, this may be in some part to that preference for the faster/easier flow from the bottle.


  3. How else can my partner bond with the baby? – Partners all over the world and for millions of years have been bonding to their children without directly feeding them. I know it seems, especially in those early days, that all there is to babies is eating (and sleeping and pooping!). This WILL change and in the mean time, partners can bathe, read/talk, sing, hold, rock, cuddle, do skin to skin, change all the diapers.  To support the breastfeeding parent they can make snacks, do the laundry, clean up, call/email family and friends to update them, find the lactation consultant, pick up/heat up/make the breastfeeding parents favourite meals/snacks.  And if this isn’t your first time; play with, take care of, get out of the house with any older children.

  4. And this too will pass-  Literally before you know it you will be thinking about introducing solids around 6 months.  In the first few weeks postpartum you will be shocked if anyone says it will go fast (probably because you will have been awake for most of the first month!) but it will. And once solids are introduced you can leave your partner or caregiver with solids when you go out. Nurse before you leave and then when you get home.

  5. Follow your instincts- At the end of the day, the overwhelming part is that this is YOUR baby and YOUR decision. I want parents to have all the information; to know that if their goal is to breastfeed for the better part of a year, sometimes bottles can make that easier for you but harder for your baby.  A breastfed baby doesn’t HAVE to have bottles.  Sometimes families don’t even know that not using a bottle is an option – open cup, solids, nursing before and after leaving for a few hours are all options. If this is not an option for YOUR situation, that is okay too.

Please seek out the one on one help of a lactation consultant if you have questions about getting more rest while breastfeeding, returning to paid work or being away from your baby for an extended period of time.