Did you know not all women can breastfeed? I know! I too used to be a part of the righteous progressive “you aren’t trying hard enough” movement in our fair country…until I saw this topic from another perspective. In an attempt to love and understand all views and choices, it is often enlightening to step into someone else’s shoes and see what it is they are going through before automatically assuming they are “wrong” or “stupid” because their opinion differs from yours. This is my attempt at doing just that!
When I was young, breastfeeding was more a choice for moms and moms-to-be – you either chose to do it or you didn’t. End of story – there were no other options. I find this funny because our culture, which is so dead-set on having women breastfeed, then frowns upon it when it is done in public. OK, not EVERYONE frowns upon it, but you can read about my friend’s first (and last) experience breastfeeding in public in Springfield, Mo here. Be warned, it can tug your heart-strings.
Breastfeeding Can Be Difficult for Some Women
I moved to Malaysia towards the end of 2006, but when I found out I was pregnant I decided to give birth in the U.S. of A. surrounded by friends and family. I gave birth to my daughter in Springfield, Mo before raising her in Malaysia, and I was blessed that the hospital was kind enough to provide me with a breastfeeding consultant. This was a free service for moms who chose to breastfeed and let me say it wasn’t easy in the beginning. In fact, I probably would’ve given up if it wasn’t for my consultant.
At times I was afraid I wasn’t producing enough milk for my infant. Forget about the sore, blistered nipples, the fevers from recurring mastitis and having to wake up every two hours for the first three months of her life. I was afraid she was always hungry and several times I wanted to give up and put her on formula. Lucky for me, my breastfeeding consultant was there every step of the way coaching me through what I thought were my own shortcomings. Eventually, I started producing greater quantities of breast milk and my daughter had more than enough to sustain her throughout her first year.
Since I had chosen to breastfeed, I didn’t experience the criticism, shame and condescending judgment many women face who don’t breastfeed. Aside from total strangers berating them on the harmful “crap” in baby formula, often specialists and doctors join in on the criticism and call these mothers lazy or uncommitted.
This often leaves mothers feeling sad, guilty and unsupported – something no new mom wants to feel. I read one heart-breaking story here of a woman who couldn’t breastfeed due to a medical condition and the shame and judgment she faced from society INCLUDING total strangers. She had a medical condition the likes which many of us are blessed NOT to have – how about a little compassion?
Is it True Some Women’ Can’t Breastfeed?
As it turns out, it IS true some women can’t breastfeed (or shouldn’t). Many experts say about 1 – 5% of women can’t breastfeed, but surprisingly there are not too many statistics which back up this number.
In a 1990 study of 319 first-time mothers who were motivated to breastfeed, were healthy, and had their breasts examined before and after childbirth, 85% of the mothers achieved sufficient lactation for their infants within three weeks postpartum. The other 15% had persistent milk insufficiency despite intensive intervention from specialists.
“You cannot find a number for this,” says Marianne Neifert on the percentage of women who don’t or can’t produce enough breast milk for their infants. Neifert is a clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine who co-authored the above-mentioned study.
Neifert attributes most of the low supply to problems such as sore nipples and infant feeding difficulties, but she says 4 percent of the 319 women appeared to have chronic low milk supply.
Today, experts say that 1 to 5 percent of Western women is affected, but Neifert hasn’t been able to find any additional studies that support those numbers.
Some of the other studies available online are completed with a limited amount of people in a geographically specific area. For example, if a breastfeeding study is conducted in a suburban middle-class area, the study is limited to that region – forget about suburban middle-class groups in other parts of the country or lower or upper-class areas for that matter.
Yes, there are those who give up breastfeeding before really giving their breasts a chance to let down, and use the old “I am one of those who can’t breastfeed” as an excuse to stop trying, and there are also those who genuinely can’t due to medical reasons!
Women Who Can’t or Shouldn’t Breastfeed:
- those who are on certain medications,
- some who have had breast surgery/augmentation,
- who simply don’t produce enough milk due to insufficient glandular tissue,
- whose specialist RECOMMENDS otherwise for health reasons,
- who have anemia, HIV, thyroid disorder, heart disease or some other serious illness, or
- who have cancer and are going through radiation or chemotherapy.
If you are a new mom and are looking to breastfeed your child, keep in mind it takes time and patience to produce milk. We are blessed to live in a country where breastfeeding mothers have access to specialists and educational portals which support them in their breastfeeding journey – but this doesn’t give ANYONE the right to demoralize someone else due to their choices or health conditions. After all, you don’t build yourself up by tearing someone else down (that’s just mean).
Whether you are looking to breastfeed or have your child on formula, there is no right or wrong way. If you are someone who doesn’t produce enough breast milk for your infant, you may risk their health OR LIFE if they don’t receive the necessary vitamins, minerals, and calories through some other means. As long as your child is healthy and receiving the proper nutrition in a supportive environment, you are doing well in my book!
Wishing you all the best Springfield – let’s support one another and celebrate diversity.