Reasons why you may struggle to breastfeed

Here are just a few reasons why some women can’t or may struggle to breastfeed: 

  • low breastmilk supply
  • no breastmilk supply 
  • being on medication 
  • having had breast surgery 
  • having a premature baby
  • baby can’t latch properly  
  • baby was adopted  
  • baby was carried by a surrogate

If you are experiencing any of these problems, you should seek out the help of your doctor, midwife, Plunket nurse or PlunketLine – many of these are treatable with professional support. 

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully it shows you that you’re not alone. There are lots of reasons you might find breastfeeding difficult, and when breastfeeding doesn’t work out the way you’d planned, it’s normal to feel a range of emotions – from frustration to grief to relief. There is no 'right' way to feel, and it’s important to be kind to yourself. 

What to do if you can’t breastfeed

It’s important to make sure your baby’s putting on enough weight, so talk to your GP, Plunket nurse, midwife, or health provider. They can also give you advice and information on your options for feeding your baby. 

You can choose to: 

  • feed your baby formula. It’s a safe alternative for breastmilk, providing all the nutrients your baby needs for the first six months of life. All infant formula has to meet high food and nutrition standards. Choose one that is the right age and stage for your baby and talk to your friends who formula feed.
  • use donor milk. Donor milk from breastmilk banks is often used in hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs) to help feed premature or sick babies whose mother’s own milk isn’t available or isn’t quite enough. Some women use donated breastmilk from other breastfeeding mothers they know or might connect with others through an informal breastmilk sharing community. Your lead maternity carer (midwife or obstetrician) can guide you. 

It can be easy to focus on what you can’t do – but remember to focus on what you’ve already done. You have a beautiful new baby – enjoy them! 

Read about donated breastmilk

Ministry of Health

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The Government's principal advisor on health and disability: improving, promoting and protecting the health of New Zealanders.

Bonding with your baby

Breastfeeding’s a wonderful way to bond with your baby, but it isn't the only way. At feeding time, hold your infant close to you and make eye contact. You can even hold your baby in a breastfeeding position while you bottle-feed them, with lots of skin-to-skin and eye-to-eye contact.  

Remember, your relationship with your child isn't based on whether you breastfeed or bottle-feed them. How you respond when they cry, how often you hold them, look at them, talk to them, play with them, and how you are as a parent matters more than how you feed them.