Guilt of Breastfeeding Failure

In previous posts, this blog (see below) has examined the potential bias of studies reporting better outcomes in breastfed infants along with issues of maternal guilt. A recent commentary explores the issue of feeling guilty when breastfeeding does not go well.

AJ Kennedy. NEJM 2023; 388:1447-1449. Breast or Bottle — The Illusion of Choice

Some excerpts:

Only about 25% of women in the United States exclusively breast-feed for the recommended period.2  After my struggles, these statistics seem realistic to me, but before I went through it myself, I had no concept of how hard it could be…

Around the time my son turned 6 months old…my primary care doctor… gave me the courage to start taking medication and to stop breast-feeding that very week. Though the guilt about stopping has never fully gone away, the joy and happiness in my life quickly returned…

Even after I’ve told them that I might not choose to breast-feed this time around [with 2nd child], multiple doctors have “reminded” me that breast milk has been shown to carry Covid-19 antibodies — yet another reason to feel ashamed if I choose not to breast-feed…I am hopeful that this time around I can embrace formula feeding more quickly if that is the path that works best for me and my baby,…

I encourage the AAP and other national health organizations to consider how their statements on exclusive breast-feeding are perceived by the public. If 75% of us are not meeting this goal [6 months of exclusive breastfeeding], a more patient-centered approach and recommendation is needed.

My take: Breastfeeding does not work for everyone. Parents often feel guilty about perceived short-comings and we need to find a balance in encouraging breastfeeding but acknowledging that formula feeding is a good alternative.

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