Every mom has days when giving up breastfeeding sounds like the only possible answer. Despite best intentions, nearly half of women quit breastfeeding too early.
Everyone agrees that breastfeeding is best for your baby. Studies have even shown that it can provide great health benefits for mothers, too! Doctors, Pediatric Associations, and even the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend exclusive breastfeeding for at least six months. It sounds great in theory, but actually putting it into practice can be surprisingly difficult. You know, best laid plans and all? Well, things don’t always go as expected.
If you are struggling, you are not alone! We all have that friend who breastfeeds their children for two years and makes it all look so easy (and also makes the rest of us feel a little guilty, right?). But, the truth is, 80% of breastfeeding moms say that they face some type of challenge that causes them to consider giving up (CDC, 2016). In fact, many women plan to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months, but only about one-third actually reach this goal.
Breastfeeding seems like it should come naturally. Our bodies are designed to feed and nurture our babies. So, why is it so hard, and why are so many Moms quitting before they barely get started?
The Decision of When to Give Up Breastfeeding Isn’t An Easy One
Most women don’t want to stop breastfeeding early. As Moms, we have the heart, the passion, and the greatest of intentions when it comes to our babies. We want to do what is best for them. But, then we discover barriers that we didn’t anticipate. The decision to quit breastfeeding isn’t an easy one. Often we consider it because we don’t know what else to do.
Yes, sometimes breastfeeding isn’t possible. Sometimes, supplementation is necessary. Sometimes, early weaning is recommended. But sometimes, all we need is practical solutions and a little bit of support. Sometimes, just hearing, “We will figure this out. Everything is going to be OK”, can make all the difference in the world.
Top 15 Reasons Moms Are Giving Up Breastfeeding Early (and Solutions if You Don’t Want to!)
Statistics show that a lot of women are opting out of breastfeeding before their babies are six months old. The question is why? Well, healthcare professionals, lactation counsellors, and researchers decided to ask the experts….new moms. And, here is a list of the most commonly given reasons.
1. Painful Nipples – This is actually the most frequently given reason for quitting breastfeeding. Engorgement is painful enough, but sore, cracked, bleeding nipples can make nursing excruciating.
Solution: Try using breast shields to allow air to circulate around your nipples and promote healing. If you use milk collections shells, you can store the extra milk for those feedings when your nipples are especially sore and need a longer break. Breast shells can also help ease engorgement, but using hot compresses to release small amounts of milk may also give you some relief. Also, sometimes the way a baby latches on can be painful because the nipple is stretched or pulled, so experiment with different nursing positions until you find one that is more comfortable.
2. Concerns About Milk Supply – Many mothers say that they stopped breastfeeding because they were concerned about the quantity and quality of their milk. If your baby cries a lot or wants to eat frequently, it is easy to think that the breast milk isn’t satisfying their hunger. One Mom said that her baby wanted to eat every 30 minutes. She was exhausted, her breasts were sore, and she was convinced that she wasn’t making enough milk. But, her daughter was growing, gaining weight, and seemed to be thriving. Her doctor assured her that her milk supply was sufficient and recommended that she work with a lactation specialist. She discovered that the problem was more in the “mechanics” of breastfeeding, and a few adjustments helped immensely. Another woman said that she wore nursing pads because she would leak through her clothing to the point of embarrassment. Yet, she stopped breastfeeding because her baby cried all the time and she assumed that her milk was not a good enough quality to meet her baby’s needs.
A perceived low milk supply is common, but in most cases, it is unfounded. But, doctors and midwives have discovered that a mother will stop breastfeeding if she believes that she is unable to meet her baby’s nutritional needs, even if she is producing enough milk.
Solution: Learning what to look for can be helpful. Does your baby have 5+ wet diapers in a day? Are their bowels moving? Can you hear then swallowing when they are eating? Are they growing? Are they meeting developmental milestones? Are they healthy? Are they content? If they cry a lot, is it really due to hunger or other issues such as colic or pain? If you are really concerned, try pumping for a few feedings to see how much you express. You could also meet with a lactation consultant to make sure that your baby is latching on correctly or sucking strongly enough.
3. Not Making Enough Milk – As mentioned, most low milk supply is perceived. However, although rare, some women actually do not make enough milk. Insufficient Glandular Tissue (the tissue responsible for making milk) can result in an inadequate milk supply. However, that does not mean that you have to give up on breastfeeding completely.
Also, poor attachment, frequency of feeding, health conditions (both mom or baby), or a newborn who is exceptionally sleepy can affect milk quantity.
Solution: If you have concerns, speak to a health care professional or lactation consultant. It may be possible for you and your baby to work together to improve latching on and increase suckling strength. Pumping may also be recommended to help increase milk supply. And, supplementation may be the best solution before giving up breastfeeding. Even if you are unable to breastfeed exclusively, whatever you can do is better than nothing, right?
4. Uncomfortable Feeding In Public – About a third of women said they feel embarrassed or uncomfortable breastfeeding in public (The Guardian, 2015). When babies are hungry, they want to eat. They don’t care if you are in the grocery store, or the mall, or the dentist office. The only thing that will stop the uncontrollable crying is food. Sure, you could return to your car or nurse in the restroom stall. But, that isn’t always possible, especially if you have other children. Some women say they stopped breastfeeding, or at least introduced supplementation, so they could avoid those rude, judgemental stares. Sometimes, leaving your baby at home is easier. And, let’s be honest, breastfeeding is natural but there are times when it can make both you and others feel uncomfortable. Things are slowly changing, but in many places, public breastfeeding is hard for many of us!
Solution: Find clothing that makes it easy to nurse while also remaining relatively concealed. And, remember, you aren’t doing anything wrong so ignore other people’s reactions. It might be tough at first, but it’ll get easier. Of course, if you find breastfeeding in public too embarrassing or inconvenient for you personally, you could always pump a bottle to take along.
5. Have To Go Back To Work. A lack of maternity leave is a major factor in the decision to quit breastfeeding. Unlike many other countries, the U.S. does not offer mandatory maternity leave. More than 20% of new moms return to work as early as two weeks after giving birth, and very few actually remain home for six months (USA Today, 2017). Studies have shown that breastfeeding duration is directly related to both the amount of paid leave a woman is given and the amount of unpaid leave she can afford to take.
Yes, it is possible to breastfeed while working, but it isn’t easy. Pumping milk, storing it properly, and getting it home safely can be difficult. Balancing being a new mother with the demands of the workplace is hard enough, never mind trying to coordinate breastfeeding into the mix. And, a huge number of moms say that their workplaces do not provide a supportive environment for breastfeeding women. Private lactation rooms, designated fridges for milk storage, and flexible breaks (pumping is usually needed 2-3 times during the average workday) are not typically offered by most employers. So, many women feel that their only choice is to stop breastfeeding.
Solution: Hopefully, more employers will consider making maternity leave part of a benefits package. In the meantime, ask healthcare professionals and lactation consultants to help you create a plan that will allow you to continue breastfeeding as long as possible. Invest in a good quality pump, or ask your insurance company if they will cover the cost of one. And, encourage your employer to make the workplace more accommodating. You could even ask a doctor or public health official to help educate employers about the issue. It could be that they are simply unaware of the needs or stress experienced by new moms in the workforce.
6. Mom is Tired! Breastfeeding can be beautiful, but it can also be very tiring….especially when you are still night feeding! Your body is feeding another human, and that can be demanding. Plus, breastfed babies usually eat more often than those who are formula fed. That means less sleep and less relaxation time. Some women say that nursing completely saps their energy. They feel tired all the time, which affects their ability to take care of their baby.
Solution: Try pumping a few bottles so someone else can feed your baby while you have an afternoon nap. Speak with your doctor or nutritionist about a possible need for vitamins or other supplements. And again, it’s a balancing act. If you find breastfeeding exclusively too exhausting, then creating a bottle/breast schedule is better than giving up breastfeeding altogether.
7. Feeding Problems. Breastfeeding is a skill that both you and your baby will need to develop. It takes time! And every baby is different. One mom said that breastfeeding was a breeze with her first baby, so she was completely surprised at how much she struggled when nursing her second child. Some babies have trouble sucking or latching on. Add in things like sore nipples, engorgement, or mastitis, and it can all become quite discouraging. But don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it!
Solution: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ask a nurse. Ask a doctor. Ask a lactation consultant. Ask a friend. Ask your mother. Whether it’s changing feeding positions or using a breast shield, someone might have that piece of advice that can make all the difference.
8. Attitude or Perception – Studies have shown that your attitude toward breastfeeding is an important factor in giving up breastfeeding (Vijayalakshmi, 2015). Women who are surrounded by people who have had positive experiences are more likely to stick to it than those who have negative perceptions. For example, moms who find it fulfilling and believe that it is a great way to bond with their baby will have more determination to work through challenges. However, new moms who choose to breastfeed out of obligation or pressure from family, friends, or healthcare professionals are more likely to become frustrated and quit earlier.
Solution: Regardless of why you chose to breastfeed, do a little research before you decide to quit. Find a breastfeeding support group or talk to some people outside of your immediate circle who may be able to help change your perspective.
9. Medical Reasons. Some women are unable to continue breastfeeding for health reasons. One mom said that she nursed her baby for the first 4 weeks, until she needed emergency surgery for hemorrhaging. Due to the hospital stay, anaesthetics, and medications, she was unable to continue breastfeeding. Another mom was diagnosed with a medical condition requiring treatment that was not good for the baby. Her doctors advised that she pump during the course of her treatment then resume breastfeeding after recovery. However, at that point, the baby was content with the bottle and showed no interest in nursing.
Solution: Some things are just out of our control. In most cases, breastfeeding is best, but there are times when it’s not recommended. The most important thing is that your baby is happy and healthy. So, the best solution is to make the time to snuggle and cuddle just like you would if you were nursing. A bottle doesn’t break the bond!
10. Baby Not Satisfied – Believing that the baby is not satisfied with breast milk alone is among the top three reasons mentioned for giving up breastfeeding. Most moms say this happens at about 4 months. According to some lactation experts, many women falsely believe that they need to switch to formula because it is more filling. While breast milk is digested more quickly, these experts say that all babies will go through growth spurts and periods when they want to eat more frequently. At first, it may seem like they are dissatisfied, but eventually your body will adjust to the new demands and feeding schedules should return to normal. Of course, there will come a time when solid foods can be introduced, but until that point, most healthcare professionals believe that breast milk is sufficient.
Solution: Remember that breastfeeding is supply and demand, so be patient and give your body some time to adjust to increased demands. If your baby seems unsatisfied with breast milk for more than two weeks, speak to your doctor.
11. Freedom – When asked why they stopped breastfeeding so early, many women said that they wanted their freedom. Some people may think this is selfish. But, breastfeeding is an very time-consuming job. You are the only one who can feed your baby, and you have to be available whenever they are hungry – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Wanting to go out with friends for a few hours, being able to eat whatever you want, having someone else feed your baby so you can make dinner or have a bath…these are all things that most people take for granted. Some moms want to go on a diet so they can regain their pre-pregnancy body. Some want to resume smoking or drinking coffee. Some just want to be able to go for a walk without having to watch the clock for feeding times. Having a baby is a lifestyle change, and many moms crave the personal freedom that bottle feeding can provide.
Solution: Join a breastfeeding support group where you can feed your baby without sacrificing adult company instead of giving up breastfeeding. Pump a couple of bottles a week (or day) so someone else can feed your baby while you have a little “me” time. Talk to your family and friends and see if you can work out a schedule or solution that will give you a break without having to sacrifice breastfeeding.
12. Feeling Overwhelmed – Having a baby is a lifestyle change. For a first-time mom, it can be a big learning curve. If you have other children, you face the challenge of taking care of an infant while also chasing after a toddler…or two. Finding ways to balance and cope with everything can be difficult, and sometimes the responsibility becomes completely overwhelming. Feeding, pumping, changing diapers, doing laundry, never sleeping. It’s exhausting. Some moms feel that all these demands are too much. Switching to formula would make things easier by allowing someone else to feed their baby. Also, it is not uncommon for stress to affect milk supply. One mom reported that she had a hard time producing milk until she decided to wean her baby. Once the stress of breastfeeding was lifted, she had enough milk to feed two babies.
Solution: Find a good support system. Ask family and friends to help with other tasks like laundry or cooking. Or, let some things slide. In the big scope of things, your baby won’t care if the dusting gets done every week or if the bed is made. Cut yourself some slack and remember that this is just a season. This stage will pass way too quickly, so try to enjoy it while you can!
13. Teething – Some babies are biters, and when they get teeth, breastfeeding can hurt. It’s at this point that many moms decide to start the weaning process.
Solution: Making sure your baby opens their mouth wide before latching on can help prevent biting. Some moms have said that using a breast shield or giving your baby something cold to chew on immediately before nursing can also be helpful.
14. Lack Of Support – As we have already established, breastfeeding is both difficult and demanding, so having a strong support system is vital. It’s great if family and friends can help out, and studies have shown that women are more likely to breastfeed longer if the father is willing to take on extra household responsibilities. But, your greatest source of support will be other moms.
Solution: Join a breastfeeding or new moms support group, plan weekly get-togethers with other breastfeeding women, find on-line chat groups, or take a breastfeeding class.
15. Lack Of Knowledge. Surprisingly, many moms say that they received very little information or instruction about breastfeeding. They felt like they were flailing around, trying to figure things out on their own. We often have this misconception that breastfeeding should be easy, so when it doesn’t come naturally, we think that there is something wrong. As a result, many moms quit breastfeeding because they aren’t aware of the simple solutions to the issues they are facing. They don’t realize that almost every woman deals with the same struggles. Breastfeeding has to be learned. It’s a skill that both mom and baby have to develop. The sad truth is that many moms quit breastfeeding early due to lack of knowledge.
Solution: Lactation consultations and breastfeeding classes are available. Many women are not aware of these resources, although they are becoming more popular. Ask your doctor or local clinic for information on breastfeeding. Once your baby is born, ask a nurse or midwife to walk you through the basics of breastfeeding and to help make sure that your baby is latching on correctly. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. Again, join a support group where you can learn from the experience of others.
When is it Ok to Stop Breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding is an amazing journey. But, it can also be filled with obstacles. Unfortunately, many moms miss out because they don’t realize that these obstacles can be overcome. Everyone’s experience is different, and deciding when to wean your baby is a personal choice. It’s ok to stop when you decide it is best for you and your baby. But, if you aren’t ready to give up just yet, there may be a solution that will allow you to keep breastfeeding a little longer.