How the breastfeeding lobby make me feel…

breastfeeding guilt


breastfeeding guilt


… but still no worse than I feel myself.

I am very envious of women who seemingly effortlessly breastfeed and this is one parenting guilt I do suffer from.  I have been politely asked why I do not breastfeed.  I have also been attacked for not breastfeeding.

Here is my story.

I didn’t breastfeed with the first four through choice. When it came to my fifth pregnancy I was determined this would change.  I read up, asked questions, sought advice, invested in a pump, bags for freezing breastmilk, nipple cream – everything!  I was determined.  Eddie was born and I was shown what to do, how to hold him, how to latch correctly.  I did it, but I was in pain from the off.  I carried on seeking advice, trying to feed him despite the pain and despite him not settling.  I carried on, and on, determined that I was going to do this but I was getting more and more upset that what came so naturally to other mums was so hard for me to do.  What was wrong with me?

My nipples were red raw, bleeding so much that the milk was pink.  I tried using shields but they didn’t work either.  Finally, it came to the point I was resenting my baby.  I didn’t want him near me.  I didn’t want to feed him.  I resented him.  I hated being in so much pain, I hated that I was letting him down and I felt like a complete failure as a mother.  Then I got mastitis too.  But what hurt the most was the sheer contempt I was developing towards my baby.  This was not right.

This was the final straw.  I called a friend – a midwife –  and told her how I felt.  I was in tears.  Why couldn’t I do this?  Why was I getting it so wrong?  What else could I try?

And she told me what I needed to hear.

She told me it was ok not to breastfeed.

She pointed out that the four children I had chosen not to breastfeed had not suffered at all.  Nobody had any ailments, illnesses or problems were are told are linked with formula feeding.  They were healthy, thriving babies who had grown into healthy, thriving children.

She told me that I didn’t need to worry and most of all, that I didn’t need to feel guilty and should stop that guilt.


That was the reassurance I’d been needing and it hadn’t been forthcoming.  I had been wrestling with the guilt and the feeling of failure for something that I had been told came naturally.  I was coming under fire from other women who, instead of supporting me, were telling me that I must have been doing something wrong and that I obviously hadn’t gone to the right places for help or advice.  I would meet up with other mums who would happily sit and chat while feeding their baby and I’d sit and smile resenting myself for not doing the same.   The negativity met by others was rife, but it was still nowhere near how I made myself feel.

That negativity and sometimes even outright vitriol is still common.  Only a couple of days ago I received a comment stating, “You should be ashamed of yourself not getting valuable breastmilk into those twins. And now you help sell the idea to others influenced by your mythical ‘super mum’ opinion. Ready made formula from the outset without colostrum is neglect at best”.  I didn’t let the comment through under the post it was submitted (a competition to win baby bottles) but did want to address it.  Comments and insults like this are not rare.  (Oh, and for the record, I’ve never claimed Super Mum status – but thanks for offering to put me on the pedestal just so you can knock me off it).  I looked up the blog of the person who took the time to email to me.  She was attempting to become a surrogate for two gay men.  I was so tempted to ask how they were planning to breastfeed.  Clearly, the irony of what she was doing compared to what she was berating me for was lost on her.

No, they are not rare.  Being accused of neglect, of abuse and of being a terrible, unworthy mother is par for the course if you admit to formula feeding.

Nowadays, I still feel uncomfortable when the subject of feeding baby comes up.  I still feel like I should defend myself or excuse myself to others.

And this is the one mothering conversation topic that has me quietly but swiftly backing out of a (virtual) room.



22 thoughts on “How the breastfeeding lobby make me feel…

  1. I can completely relate to your experiences here, I went through almost exactly the same with my second child. I had awful PND as a result. Breast feeding mothers & indeed mothers in general can be too severe on others simply for choosing a parenting style of lifestyle that isn’t the same as theirs. I have been called out on everything from bottle feeding ‘you are just lazy & selfish, everyone can breast feed’ to recently choosing to use cloth nappies with my toddler ‘you must be mad and she’ll get nappy rash’.

    People sadly, love to judge but it usually says more about their failings than ours.

    Live & let live I say 🙂

  2. Oh I’m so glad to hear that you have struggled with breastfeeding too! What you described with your 5th child was how it was with my 1st, 2nd and 3rd. I was so determined to breastfeed with my 3rd that I came close to starving her to death (she lost 40% birthweight by the time she was 5 weeks old) but I still had other mums telling me it was my fault. With my last 3 I fed them for the first 2 days while in hospital but that was only to avoid negative comments from midwives/nurses. As soon as I came home I switched to formula and none of my children are overweight, sick of stupid. In fact they all excel at sports, have wonderful health and 4 of the 6 consistently come top of the class at school. I once was feeding my 4th a bottle in a supermarket food court when a woman came up and actually said “Don’t you know breast is best? You should be breastfeeding.” I just looked at her and said “I don’t have any breasts.” and she scuttled away like a cockroach trying to avoid being stomped on. Thanks for sharing your story and making me feel a little less of a failure.

    1. “I don’t have any breasts.” I just LOVE your reply ! Thank Heaven that formula is available for those who need it or choose it, and we are not stuck searching out wet nurses!

  3. I too have failed miserably on the breast feeding front, and am struggling with my own shame and guilt. We beat ourselves up enough without other leaping in to do it for us.

    Shame on the person who commented, telling women that they are neglecting their children by not breastfeeding—makes my blood boil. Good for her that she could breastfeed, now she needs to go away and be smug in her own corner.


  4. I can understand how you feel totally. I hate the hooded question “did you breast feed”. I have been made to feel such a failure because I didn’t though nothing like the comment you have received.

    It’s such a sore subject and Ive watched other formula mums be destroyed on twitter etc over it.

    It’s personal choice, while breast feeding has many advantages so to does a mum who isn’t screaming in pain, suffering to bond with her child. It’s a personal decision and people should stop writing negative bullying comments and accept.

  5. I have breastfed but have many friends who haven’t been able to for various reasons. They decided that it was better for them and their babies to happily bottlefeed than unhappily breastfeed. Some people think it’s their god given right to critisise the parenting techniques of others. We do not wear signs on our foreheads that read “please give me your advice, I haven’t a clue what I’m doing!” so people should learn to butt out and concentrate on their own lives. I actually feel so sad reading some of the comments you ladies have had. How can women be so judgemental and critical towards fellow mums?. Surely we are all in this parenting game together and should be supporting eachother not having a go at somebody else’s choices.

  6. I WAS one of the women who thought everyone should breastfeed and for me it was not problem…but I have heard story after story of situations like yours that make breastfeeding not only physically miserable but emotionally draining and am thankful for the other options we have today. For many women in history there were not other options and babies died and women went insane. It’d be nice if everyone’s body worked the way it was supposed to but the simple fact is, they don’t.
    I am saddened that women feel the need to attack one another. As many people as there are in the world. Thanks for being real and sharing from a place of pain. Stand strong in the road you’ve come and be an enouragement to others who have chosen the same path.
    Keep up the God work.

  7. Thank you for writing this post. It will certainly help me to be aware of being sensitive to those who aren’t breastfeeding for whatever reason! Motherhood is difficult enough without the added burden of judgement from others – people we know and strangers.

    I have breastfed all of mine, and it’s been a struggle at times, wishing that I could stop, or supplement with formula. We have food allergies to milk and corn products and sensitivities to soy. Good luck finding formula that has no milk, soy, or corn products. There probably is one out there somewhere….but I eventually stopped looking, and continued to breastfeed.

    I’m sorry for the rudeness of others. I’m soo glad you talked with your midwife who helped you come to terms with the guilt. Let it go. It’s an unnecessary burden.

  8. I know what you mean. I breastfeed my first child-it was one of the lovely things i have done. But when it came to my second child, i tried to do it again. But i failure. It was such hard work. My baby boy never stop crying from day one. i felt that i didn’t produce enough milk for him, it seem like he couldn’t get enough.

    I spoke to my Midwife who said if you don’t feel happy with feeding him yourself then don’t. So i gave up, and life got so much easier with him. He became such a happy little boy from one that was always crying.

    Then when i had my third child which was another girl. I breastfeed her for about 6 weeks. She took to it very well, but with the other two running round i felt a bit tied at time. So she went on the bottle.

    They are 19,16 and 10yrs old now. I can honestly say that it didn’t make any different. They are all lovely in there little ways. And just as health as each other.

    So i say whatever your happy with doing, then go ahead with it. If you got a content baby then you got one happy mother.

  9. i felt the same way, and was guilt ridden for a long time – i also tried hard, in pain, and with the added anxiety of my baby being in scbu so extra stress!
    i also learnt the hard way that it is ok to choose a differnet way – and that being diffenret or making choices shouldnt make us guilty, and doesnt affect the outcome of lour children growing up loved!
    i do enjoy reading your posts, although am mum to one, so not as large a family as yours!

  10. I was there. I tried so hard to breastfeed my baby, but like you, it got to the point where I resented her. I would cry when she woke up, knowing I’d have to feed her, and I was exhausted because my supply was a problem, and resulted in me pumping every hour and a half and saving that milk. By doctors orders (my hospital was extremely pro breastfeeding in some ways), I would attempt to breastfeed, then bottle feed the expressed milk while pumping any remaining milk, then formula supplement at the end. It was simply impossible.

    It wasn’t long before my baby began screaming at the sight of my breasts because she couldn’t get the milk to come from them the way she wanted, I wasn’t letting down for her because I was so upset I guess.

    I saw 3 different lactation consultants about my pain, and was basically told too bad, baby is getting the food she needs, breastmilk is best, so put up with it for the good of your baby.

    The breastfeeding ‘support’ groups? Oh well it was obviously my fault, by what reason no one seemed to be able to tell me. No one wanted to come beside me and support me, they wanted to tell me I was wrong for supplementing with formula instead of taking 20 different herbal supplements to increase my milk supply, and tell me it was my fault for not feeding properly the first day, and my fault for not realising my baby was starving the first few days, and every other reason. And of course it was my fault baby was jaundiced because of all this.

    I stopped trying at 2 weeks and switched to formula. She couldn’t manage cows milk so we switched again to goats (WOW that stuff is expensive! Most expensive baby food ever). She was happy, ate perfectly, still eats perfectly, no sickness, she’s only had a cold once, and some teething dificulties. I did discover the problem later on, she was moving her tongue back and forth across my nipple like a cat drinking milk, grazing it constantly. On top of the breast refusal, the bad initial latch and feeding, the fact baby resented me for not letting down quickly enough causing her to panic on the breast, and the way she took to bottles when supplemented, I just couldn’t move back from that.

    But you know what pisses me off more than anything. What is, actually, rather ironic? I could have breastfed if I’d used a nipple guard at the first sign of pain. We could have fixed the latch, baby wouldn’t have refused the breast, I would let down normally, I wouldn’t be in agony because she couldn’t graze me through the guard. You know why I never even considered a nipple guard until long after I stopped feeding her? Because the breastfeeding ‘support’ groups constantly told me they would ruin my supply and my babies latch, that they did far more harm than good and that if you breastfed with a guard, you wern’t ‘really’ breastfeeding, because you wern’t doing it properly. I didn’t even know where to buy them, and not one of the lactation consultants who I asked for help ever mentioned them as a possibility.

    It is entirely thanks to the breastfeeding support groups that I could not breastfeed, because they are so stuck on breastfeeding as a concept, they can’t see that breastmilk through a guard or pumped to a bottle is still breastmilk, in their minds it’s as bad as formula because babies lips aren’t attached directly to the skin of my boobs, as if that contact is the magical catalyst that causes breastfeeding to be ‘best’.

    I had a lot of guilt for a long time, especially when women would tell me formula is poison, which probably happens every 3 months. But, you know what, my baby just turned one. She has been sick less times than even most breastfed babies, she is advanced for her age, people often mistaking her for 15 or 18 months, she sleeps the night through and is the most active, happy, independent little girl you’ll ever meet. Nothing I was told would happen happened. So I’m ok with it now.

    I will try to breastfeed my second, and probably even my third, but if I can’t, I know it’s ok, and if I find I can never breastfeed, so be it. Maybe breastmilk has a few wonderful extras, I’m not saying it isn’t the ideal, but not everyone can have the ideal, and not being the ideal does not make the alternative ‘poison’, just less than ideal.

  11. Such a relief to hear others have had similar experiences to me – not just you but also other commenters. I tried so hard to breastfeed my little girl but although I didn’t have the physical pain/bleeding problems we just couldn’t get it to work no matter how many times I asked for help and advice from professionals or “peer supporters”. I too found myself resenting her for the fact that I spent about 80% of my day trying to feed her and that I couldn’t go out. I don’t have a problem with the idea of breastfeeding in public, but instead of what other mothers seemed able to manage – latch on, sit and chat while baby contentedly sucks away – with us it would have been latch on, fall off, milk leak all over mum’s clothes, latch on again, fall off again, screaming fit because baby is hungry but gets herself too worked up in the process to even attempt latching on again, mum getting more and more panicky and upset, baby getting more and more hungry and upset. For about 40 minutes to an hour each time.

    Like others have said, the health visitors seemed to think that because she was getting enough milk in the end (she was growing fine) there wasn’t a problem and I just needed to perservere until it (somehow, magically) became easier. Never mind the fact that I was desperate and not able to enjoy bonding with my lovely daughter. I switched to formula at about 6 weeks, kept breastfeeding for the night feeds just so I didn’t have to go downstairs and prepare a bottle every time she woke up, and it can’t be coincidence that within a couple of days of that switched she became a much more relaxed and contended baby, with something resembling a routine. Having a mummy who wasn’t on the verge of tears 24 hours a day can’t be a bad thing either.

    I’m shortly due to give birth to no. 2 and although I’m going to give it a go again, at least to get the benefits of the colostrum for the first week if nothing else, I luckily have a ready-made excuse this time because I am supposed to be taking a number of types of medication for a condition that developed since my daughter’s birth, none of which are advisable when breastfeeding. Not that that will stop other people making judgements without finding out the facts, but I’m determined that between the knowledge that my baby will be happier if I am happy and the need to look after my own health, at least this time I won’t be making myself feel worse with the guilt of “failing”.

  12. I have been on both sides of this issue. When my eldest was 6 weeks old, I started taking birth control and within a week, my milk was dried up. I had to feed my daughter with formula and I felt like such a failure! I so desperately wanted to nurse her, yet it never occurred to me to stop taking the stupid stuff! I endured many a scornful glance and a few comments when I fed her with a bottle.

    Fast forward 11 years and I have been able to nurse the other children. Some longer then others, but all well enough. Since I have both nursed and bottle fed, I have never judged a mother by the method she feeds her child(ren). Actually, I don’t judge them at all! I have been at the end of such judgments many times before, and so I am very sensitive to such things.

    Do I believe that breast milk is better for babies? Yes, since that’s what God made it for. Do I believe that a child can grow without breast milk? Yes, since I have one! Why can some women nurse and others can’t? I don’t know. Different reasons and levels of comfort dictate each and every situation. To be honest, I get angry at mothers who look and talk with distain upon others who do things differently then they do. I do many things differently then most (I home school, don’t use any form of birth control, don’t have a TV, etc.).

    I am very sorry that you have endured such treatment.

  13. Wow…just wow….. WHATEVER your opinion of breastfeeding (and I’m definitely “pro”), there is NO WAY that using a bottle is anything even close to neglect. I mean, really, is that person actually going to call social services or the police because you’re bottle feeding? I don’t think so. Which just demonstrates how hollow their vitriol is.

    I would “neglect” to pay attention to that kind of comment lol.

  14. I am a mother of 5 children all under 7 years old ( about 12-17 months apart!) and I had an awful experience of the breastfeeding expectation. When I decided to bottle fed my 5th baby 24 hours after he was born I was told my the midwife to get my boobs out and she would feed the baby even though I was crying saying no. I basically told her no way was this going to happen, she then went on to tell me that by bottle feeding my baby I was feeding him formula that contained fish eyes and poisionous substances. I was totally horrfied and made an offical complaint to the head of midwifery at the hospital who were amazing and interviewed me with HR etc a few times. I don’t know what happened to the midwife as I wasn’t alllowed to know but one of the midwives said to me “we have been watching her for a while” and thank you for bringing this to their attention. Its good to know there are only a very few midwives who are this ill-educated and that there are far more excellent ones out there. My advice to all mums and mums to be is that it is YOUR decision and YOURS alone. x

  15. My husband was fed carnation cream when he was a baby he is fit and healthy and a twig compared to me shows how times have moved on as social services would have my baby in a second giving them that. My first I tried to breastfeed but had the same experience as many of you I cried with pain I’d rather had gone through labour again. I didn’t bond with her and was becoming resentful of her. The next one was allowed no where near my boobs, number 3 I thought I’d try again but gave up before the day she was born was over, I got no support from the midwives even though I had a home birth so 2 midwives in my house at least one to support me but they were no help. Through all the negative comments of being a bad mum I had become anti breast and would argue there is no difference between mine or any breastfed baby and still to this day will state it. My 4th gave everyone a shock when I actually decided to breastfeed but only because of the price of formula and my determination to save money helped me to succeed and so proud of my self at 9 month old I’m still giving him one feed a day. It certainly wasn’t without it’s problems though. I can remember my husband waking up to me screaming in pain when he was feeding or me wanting to throw this baby I had carried for nine months out of a window yet the decision to give up hurt me more I can remember crying at my friends house saying I have decided to give up feeding. In the end I decided to combi feed, so I didn’t have to feed at night when it was the worst time for me emotionally. My health visitor did not like this idea and in no uncertain terms let me know his view. Yet I would recommend combi feeding now to anyone that really wants to feed but finds it difficult. They are not allowed to mention this type of feeding in breastfeeding support groups as I asked about it. Thinking back to them first 2 weeks with James and feeding is making my toes curl remembering the pain but now I love having that cuddle with him since hes the youngest of 4 under 6 cuddle times can be limited some days.
    The last point about the pain though was at 10 days I was feeding James in the waiting room to see the midwife to get signed off and she turned round to me and said wow your still feeding that is very unusual for a red head to do that as it is more painful for you to keep feeding due to the sensitive skin these facts need to be out there and more midwives etc need to be more honest about breastfeeding and how it can hurt, emotionally as well as physically how your boobs can bleed and the infections that can come rather than just selling it as best for baby and the natural and perfect way to feed them.

  16. I formula fed. My lb had no interest in me at all and had nothing for 13 hours. Aside from that he was healthy. So I bottle fed.

    I love this blog. My “defense” to people who need me to defend my choice, a wonderful nearly one year old who has had two colds (one as a result of teething).

    Best to you and your family

  17. I really feel for you as you tried your very best to breastfeed, it’s not like you said Oh I WON”T try breastfeeding,it’s not a competition who can breastfeed the longest. I breastfeed all 6 of our children, last being twins, all for 2yrs each, no bottles, yes it wasn’t easy, especially when I had number 5 & 6, twins, had to feed them every 2-3hours for months to keep my supply up, day and night, so they gained enough weight, it was very exhausting physically, however my husband was an amazing support, when I had the twins, he worked from home, which was such a help in the beginning, getting two babies on isn’t easy by yourself, plus look after the other 4 children, I had with every child, cracked nipples, bleeding, used nipple shields with all 6 of my children for 4 weeks+, then could stop using the shields, I had to breastfeed around the clock as I said, it was what I wanted to do, with support of my Doctor, paediatrician, but here it is, it was what I wanted to do, I would never tell another Mum you should breastfeed, I was lucky my babies did gain weight, so could keep doing what I was doing. We all love our children, what the best for them, even with your 100% effort it isn’t always possible to breastfeed .I want to congratulate you for doing your best for your children, bottle or breast. My Mother couldn’t breastfeed me, only lasted a few weeks, low milk supply etc, however that wasn’t passed onto me in that I didn’t have the same experience as her, so maybe one day you will be helping and supporting your daughters when they are breastfeeding, or giving them support should they not find breastfeeding works for them. Well done Mum.

  18. that is like reading my own story! i have 4 children and ive tried to breastfeed them all but never succeeded. i had all of the problems you had with my first but i still tried and failed with the other 3. i was absolutely determined with my 4th child but she arrived 4 weeks early and couldnt suckle properly and i was so sore after only the first 12 hours, so i ended up bottle feeding. i do still feel guilty for bottle feeding rather than breastfeeding but it didnt come natural to me!

  19. I had terrible breastfeeding experiences with my first 3 children. Constantly screamed, had terrible sore nipples as they pulled back in pain at the breast, tongue tie, breast thrush (absolute agony), funnily enough only ever had mastitis after stopping feeding…however still beat myself up every time I had to change over to formula. When I was pregnant with baby number 4, I was determined to get to the bottom of our problems. My children had all been intolerant to cows milk protein, hence the pain they were in, reflux etc etc. Finally baby number 4 was born and we managed to successfully breastfeed for 8 months with very few problems. The only reason we stopped was because he decided she didn’t want to anymore. I was gutted, but was delighted that I had managed to overcome my previous breastfeeding obstacles and succeeded at something that was very important to me.
    If you wanted to try breastfeeding again, its always worth giving it a go. Save yourself some pennies and if it works great, if not, then use formula (or you could express and give by bottle.) Whatever way you feed your baby, it needs to be whats best for your circumstances. Good luck xx

  20. I’m so sorry that you have been on the receiving end of unkind comments. I think that we all have our reasons for our choices and that judging people is never right as we don’t have the full picture.

    There may be an option of expressing the colostrum, as this may help with your guilt. You must remember that none of us are perfect and that even if you don’t give them breastmilk then you do many other wonderful things for your children, like home educate and offer them homemade food.

  21. I have breastfed all 6 of my children,I ‘ve just stopped feeding my youngest a few months ago, but I have never been one of these militant ‘breast is best’ people. For me it is a very personal choice, once I was asked by a midwife to maybe speak to other Mums about breastfeeding and I politely declined as I think I would have to be honest and say its painful, demanding and at times frustrating and it is not for everyone. Mums need to stop beating themselves up about what other people think of their choices do what is right for you and baby not the general public ! Personally I have never encountered any direct criticism of my feeding choice, nearly all my friends have bottle fed anyway and are used to me shoving a baby up my top at play group and no longer bat an eyelid……each to their own !

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