There is no such thing as “failure to breastfeed”

A couple of weeks ago I came across a post that broke my heart. The title says it all: “What I learned from being a breastfeeding failure“.  The poor writer had suffered a terrible battle with breastfeeding and in some ways lost – she hadn’t been able to nurse her babies for as long as she hoped.

What struck me was not only that she described herself as “a failure”, when she had done everything in her power to nurse her babies, but that she mentioned meeting “some amazing health care professionals who had great advice and information”.

I disagree. She is not a failure. There are no failures in motherhood. And her health care team was not amazing. Any healthcare professional who leaves a mother in a state that makes her describe herself as a failure is not doing their job properly. I don’t care how often they smiled or said kind words or patted her back. Real help actually solves the problem that you have – it doesn’t make you feel like you are the problem.

Over the course of my very own breastfeeding nightmare I saw four super friendly and informative healthcare professionals. They all held my hand, told me “this too shall pass”, encouraged me to hang in there, suggested I switch to formula. They gave advice, commented on my latch, suggested medications. Not one of them did a single thing that actually, tangibly improved my situation.

I was the one who diagnosed myself with thrush and begged the doctor for a prescription.

I was the one who refused to give my baby a bottle and bullied them into teaching me to use a feeding tube.

I was the one who did all the research on how to wean my baby off formula to 100% breastfeeding.

I’m exceedingly proud of my achievement and at the same time devastated by the lack of support I experienced. Any slight change in circumstances could have tipped the balance towards me giving up breastfeeding for good. A husband who didn’t have time to hold my hand and watch me cry day in day out. A smidgen less stubbornness on my behalf. A baby that didn’t gain weight like a prize heifer.

I am sick and tired of people whingeing about the “mummy wars”, because this is not the battle we should be fighting. The battle is not between mothers, whether they try to breastfeed or use formula from the start. If you’re a die-hard lactivist, have a look at the stories on the Fearless Formula Feeder. Those mothers are suffering from a lack of support and information, just like the breastfeeding mother in the hospital bed next to them. Whatever our feeding choices, we are hanging on by a thread, trying to make it through the first crazy weeks of our babies’ lives.

The battle is against the doctors, nurses and lactation consultants who still only offer a check list of solutions and refuse to listen to our individual stories. They need to learn to trust a mother’s instinct, to listen to her concerns, to adapt their guidelines to her individual needs. They are failing us.

They are the failures.

Not the mother  holding a screaming baby at 3 am in the morning and trying to decide if she can take another 30 minutes of painful nursing. Not the father who wakes up through the night to make formula while his exhausted wife gets a few extra minutes of sleep.

So let’s start holding them accountable. Let’s shift the focus and shift the blame. Tell the mother next to you on the bus that you support her. Question your pediatrician about his attitude to breastfeeding and formula. Demand your midwife give you comprehensive information on your choice of feeding. Visit your friend in hospital after she gives birth and check she is really getting the care she deserves. We all need to take a stand.

The mummy wars are far from over. In fact they’ve only just begun. And we shouldn’t stop fighting until every mother is given the support she needs.
breastfeeding failure formula nursing milk breastmilk

Please share your stories in the comments. Did you breastfeed, use formula or a mixture? Did you feel you got enough information? If you had problems, did you feel your healthcare team improved your situation?

More of the same: Breastfeeding is like orange juice

This time last year: Ode to the ring sling

And then the fun began...


  1. Hello, thanks so much for this post (I only got the notification today for some reason, yet I see you wrote it months ago!) You’re probably right about the healthcare team- they were trying to help but ultimately didn’t really do that much. I’m just sorry so many people have such a hard time of it xx

  2. That’s exactly how I feel. Whenever I write anything about breastfeeding I realise I’m still digesting my experience at the same time.

  3. I think most of us feel so grateful that someone is trying to help, we don’t actually think about how helpful their advice is!

  4. I hate that feeding our babies often results in weeks of crying and wringing of hands. I hadn’t thought of the checklist attitude of health professionals before but now that you mention it, yes. They nod and smile kindly but essentially you are ‘left to it’ at the end of the day and that approach doesn’t work for a huge number of us. Thanks for linking up to #thetruthabout X

  5. You are so very right, breastfeeding is not something that should be as we have made it in todays society… My heart breaks reading about other peoples battles as my own scars are still too raw!!

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