There are many reasons why a mother may give up breastfeeding. Every mother’s reason is personal and influenced by her individual set of circumstances.
For some mothers, giving up breastfeeding may be like a ton of bricks has been lifted from their shoulders. Giving up breastfeeding may be what is best for an individual mother given her unique situation.
Giving up breastfeeding may be an easy decision for some mothers, and for others it may be one of the most difficult decisions they've ever made. Some mothers may regret their decision to give up breastfeeding.
Please note that the use of the words ‘giving up' in this article in no way infers that a mother ‘fails’ at breastfeeding. No mother ever fails at breastfeeding. However, the many booby traps that many mothers are exposed to in our society mean that our society fails mothers in many ways.
Here are 9 things you need to know before giving up breastfeeding:
#1: Have You Been Pressured To Give Up Breastfeeding?
There are many instances where a mother is given inaccurate information about breastfeeding. For example, a mother may have been told that she needs to give up breastfeeding because:
- She needs to take a certain medication (even though the medication may be compatible with breastfeeding or there may be alternative options)
- She has an illness (even though the illness may not preclude breastfeeding)
- Her milk is not ‘strong enough’ (this is never true)
- Formula will help her baby sleep better (this is a fallacy)
- Her diet is not good enough and so formula would be better (this is a fallacy – for more information about a breastfeeding mother’s diet read here)
- She doesn’t have enough milk (this is usually not the case and if it is, there are things that can help to increase supply, or if she has a primary low milk supply (e.g due to breast reduction surgery), it can still be possible to breastfeed)
If you are unsure about the information you’ve been given and would really like to continue to breastfeed, call an Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellor or see a lactation consultant.
#2: Your Baby's Age Will Determine If Formula Is Necessary Or Not
#3: You May Get Less Sleep Overall
It is a common myth that formula feeding or mixed feeding means that you get more sleep as compared to if you exclusively breastfeed.
On the contrary, research indicates mothers who formula feed or mixed feed actually get less sleep overall as compared to mothers who exclusively breastfeed, and that it generally takes longer to get back to sleep.
It appears that the lack of normal physiological processes (e.g. higher prolactin levels) when not exclusively breastfeeding mean that the quality of a mother’s sleep can be reduced.
#4: Is Exclusive Expressing An Option?
Sometimes when direct breastfeeding may no longer be what you want to do or can do, exclusive expressing may be an option. For example:
- You may be returning to work and unable to have your baby in a childcare centre near/at work, or have your baby brought to you for feeds
- You may be experiencing unresolved breast refusal
- Your baby may be unable to feed well at your breast (e.g. due to a cleft palate, heart problem, unreleased tongue tie)
#5: Is Mixed Feeding An Option?
It may work for you to consider mixed feeding (that is to combine formula feeding and breastfeeding). For example mixed feeding may work for you if you are:
- Unable to make a full milk supply. If this is the case, you may also consider donor milk
- Concerned about breastfeeding in public
- Returning to work (e.g. if you don’t want to or cannot express at work)
#6: Formula Is Expensive
It may be that for your individual situation the cost of formula is an insignificant trade-off for giving up breastfeeding.
Nonetheless, the cost of formula is something to factor in. Most tins of formula costs upwards of around $20 (AUS) and for a baby who is under 6 months of age, one tin lasts up to about one week. That’s upwards of $500 for 6 months.
#7: You Can Take Your Time
You can give up breastfeeding any time you want/need to, but it can help to take things on a feed by feed basis.
Unless you want/need to, you don’t have to rush to give up breastfeeding. Partly or fully expressing and/or mixed feeding can help to keep up a supply while you work through some problems you may be facing. You can take your time.
Weaning slowly is better for your breasts and emotions, and helps a baby to adjust to the change more gradually.
Weaning slowly can also be a bit of an insurance policy in case your baby reacts badly to formula (e.g. due to a cows’ milk protein sensitivity). The less amount of weaning that has occurred, the easier it is to build up your supply again if need be/you wish.
#8: It’s OK To Change Your Mind
If you give up breastfeeding but later decide to start breastfeeding again, it is possible. This is called relactation. Speaking with an Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellor or seeing a lactation consultant can help you work out how going about relactating may work best for you.
#9: You're A Great Mother Regardless
There is so much more to being a mother than how your baby is fed. Doing what's best for yourself and your family is important.
How your baby is fed does not define you as a mother.
Regardless of how your baby is fed, you're the very best mother your baby could ever have.
No matter what happens along the road of your breastfeeding journey, you can be proud of what you’ve achieved.