Dear Addie: I Can't Breastfeed!

Featured Article, Food and Nutrition, Growth and Development

Dear Addie: I’m getting ready to deliver my third child. I’m really excited about the baby and even the delivery process. But there’s one thing overshadowing the joy, and it’s the fact that I’m going to have to deal with the lactation people at the hospital. I am physically unable to breastfeed due to a prior medical procedure when I was younger, but no matter how much I explain that it’s not physically possible for me to breastfeed, they insist that I’m just not trying hard enough or that I need to stick with it or try different holds or whatever. How can I avoid the inevitable breastfeeding onslaught at the hospital so that I can enjoy the birth and bonding to the fullest? —Julie

Dear Julie: First of all—and most importantly—congrats on your pregnancy and impending arrival! It’s a very exciting time, no doubt. And secondly, take heart in knowing that you are not alone in the fact that you can’t breastfeed. There are plenty of women who either are unable to breastfeed, shouldn’t breastfeed or simply don’t care to breastfeed, and each reason should be respected by everyone—pro-breastfeeding pundits included.

Sure, “breast is best” has reigned supreme for decades now (though the tide may be turning?), and that’s wonderful … if you are able to and interested in breastfeeding. But if you can’t, it’s important for others—lactation professionals included—to respect that and not push and push and push until you feel like a failure. And I know that this happens because it also happened to me.

With my first child, I struggled with breastfeeding for several reasons. I was exhausted, struggled with some post-partum depression, had mastitis and didn’t make enough milk to satiate his ravenous appetite. And yet, I was told by both lactation consultants and peers alike that I just needed to hang in there and try harder and try new positions and try this pump and that product and on and on and on. And with each new suggestion, I felt worse and worse, losing more and more confidence in my new role as mother. It wasn’t until my son’s 6-week check-up when I totally fell apart in front of the pediatrician that things changed. The doctor who was both experienced and sane—neither of which was I—told me in no uncertain terms to tune it all out and do what my body and my baby needed, which in my case, was to bottle feed, for both of our own goods. So that’s what we did, and things got better.

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Fast forward to the subsequent births of my second and third children. Post-delivery, I was paid visits by the lactation consultants, who gave their standard advice of why breast is best and the best holds and asked “is he latching on?” and “are you switching sides” and yada yada yada. And feeling a little more seasoned, I was more confident when explaining that while I appreciated their offers to help, I had it under control. And that was that. My motto is that it’s okay to stick up for yourself and that when you do, you should always be firm but kind. So that’s what I recommend to you. Just remember that the lactation people have a job to do, and it’s clearly one that they’re truly passionate about. You can’t fault them for that, but you also don’t have to feel bullied into feeling bad about your decision or how your body does or does not function. That said, my advice to you is this: be firm but kind in letting any aggressive lactation people know that this isn’t your first rodeo, and that while you appreciate their input and interest in your child’s feeding method, you have things under control. Period.

Have a wonderful delivery, and enjoy every last second of your bonding moments with your new baby. It’s a magical time that needn’t be clouded by anyone else’s agenda.


Dear Addie is a wife and mom of three (with one on the way!) who has done her fair share of diaper changing, morning snuggling, boo-boo kissing, cold nursing, lullaby singing, baby rocking, field trip chaperoning and sideline cheering. She believes that there is no degree required to be a parenting “expert.” You just have to roll up your sleeves, dig in, ask the questions, get the answers, and give it your best shot. Oh, and have a whole lot of love and patience on-hand!

Have parenting questions? Fire away! Send them to [email protected].

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