When breastfeeding doesn’t work out

There are lots of reasons you might find breastfeeding difficult, or perhaps you’re simply unable to breastfeed. If you wanted to breastfeed but can’t - for whatever reason - and you’re feeling a failure, you’re not - go ahead and put that thought right out of your head. 

Here are just a few reasons why some women can’t 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. 

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully it shows you that you’re not alone. 

If you've been planning to breastfeed through pregnancy, you're probably feeling disappointed. Just as some mums plan for natural childbirth but end up needing a caesarean, women who want to breastfeed but can't often feel a sense of failure and sometimes blame themselves. 

Take the time to feel sad, mad, or however you feel, but try not to beat yourself up. Remember, lots of women are in the same position - and as long as you and your baby are happy, healthy, and thriving, it’s all good.  

When breastfeeding doesn’t work, it's essential that health professionals, family and everyone around you are supportive, understanding and respectful.   

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 perfectly good substitute for breast milk, providing all the nutrients your baby needs for the first six months of life. 
  • use donor milk. Donor milk from breast milk 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 breast milk 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. 

Need free support or advice?

Call PlunketLine 24/7 on 0800 933 922