In Australia, 96% of mothers start out breastfeeding. This shows that most mothers want to and choose to breastfeed.
However, despite a strong desire to breastfeed, breastfeeding rates drop off sharply each month after birth.
Less than one quarter of babies are still being exclusively breastfed by five months, and only about half of babies are receiving any breastmilk by 6 months.
For many mothers, when breastfeeding doesn’t work out (for whatever reason) or simply ends too soon, it can be a very stressful and emotional time.
It can take some time to find peace in acceptance of your journey and feel in a good place as a new mother.
Here are nine tips to help if breastfeeding hasn’t worked out the way you’d hoped it would:
#1: Know That Mother’s Don’t Fail At Breastfeeding And Neither Did You
If breastfeeding didn’t work out the way you wanted it to, you may not be satisfied with your experience but you absolutely did not ‘fail’ at breastfeeding. No mother ever ‘fails’ at breastfeeding.
Our society, however, can fail mothers due to the many booby traps that exist. For example, the lack of health professional knowledge about breastfeeding and lack of workplace support for mothers wishing to continue breastfeeding when returning to work.
There is still much that needs to be done to improve our breastfeeding rates and help more mothers reach their breastfeeding goals. For more information about this, read here.
#2: Know That Support Is There For You… Reach Out
Organisations such as the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) and La Leche League (LLL) are there to support you. These organisations provide you with unconditional support, regardless of how your baby is fed or what parenting decisions you make.
Many mothers for whom breastfeeding didn’t work out find that calling the ABA helpline, for example, can help them to work through their feelings and so help them feel better.
Indeed, many ABA or LLL counsellors decided to train in the first place because they themselves experienced significant breastfeeding challenges.
#3: You Can Change Your Mind – Relactation Is Possible
Some mothers for whom breastfeeding didn’t work out may decide somewhere down the track that they wish to start breastfeeding again. This is called relactation and is possible. The less time it’s been since breastfeeding stopped, the easier it is to build a supply again. Speaking with an ABA counsellor of seeing a lactation consultant can help provide you with information and support to relactate if you wish.
#4: Breastfeeding Second Time Around – There May Be Another Opportunity
There are many mothers for whom breastfeeding didn’t work out with their first child (including for many lactation consultants and breastfeeding counsellors) but for whom breastfeeding their second child does work out.
If breastfeeding didn’t work out for you with you first baby, it can work out for subsequent babies. Attending an ABA Breastfeeding Education Class, calling the ABA helpline or seeing a lactation consultant before another baby is born can help you work through any concerns you may have and help boost your confidence before your next baby is born.
#5: Breastfeeding Is Something To Be Proud Of, No Matter How Long You Breastfed For
No matter how long you breastfed for, whether it was for one day, one week, one month or one year etc, it is something to be proud of.
#6: Understand How Your Personal Circumstances May Have Contributed And Be Gentle On Yourself
Sometimes personal circumstances mean that breastfeeding does not work out. In fact, in some circumstances, not breastfeeding may be the best option for an individual family. If a mother is not feeling calm, mentally well, confident, supported and rested, all these things can make dealing with breastfeeding challenges much more difficult, and sometimes impossible.
It's important to acknowledge the circumstances you faced and what you achieved given them.
Be proud of and kind to yourself for doing what was best given your unique circumstances.
#7: Know What Your Alternatives Are If You’re Not Breastfeeding
If your baby is under 12 months of age and is no longer being breastfed, then you can use donor milk or infant formula or a combination of these.
#8: Grieve Your Loss
Breastfeeding is a relationship that a mother’s body expects to occur after the birth of her baby. So, when it doesn’t work out, we can feel grief.
Talking about your loss (e.g. with a grief counsellor or breastfeeding counsellor) can help you work through the emotions you are feeling, so that they are less likely to surface again if you have another baby.
#9: Choose How You Define Your Experience
When breastfeeding doesn’t work out, it may help if you choose to define the experience as a learning opportunity. Even from the most painful of experiences, there are opportunities for positive outcomes. For example, you may wish to use your experience to train to help support other mothers or see it as a lesson of humility (we can all do with these sorts of lessons).
If you feel like you’re not coping, don’t hesitate to seek help. There are some great organisations that provide counselling for mothers who may be experiencing anxiety or depression. If you are unsure where to turn, seeing your GP or child health nurse are good places to start.