We have all had those thoughts. You know, the ones where we want to give up breastfeeding, thinking it might not be so bad to not breastfeed our babies. Or the ones where we feel like failures for not being able to breastfeed. And the feelings of guilt. Oh, how we are guilted and judged for not breastfeeding!
But are these thoughts and feelings justified?
With so many differences between breastmilk and formula and so many reasons why mothers don’t breastfeed, it is important to understand what this means for you and your baby. In this article, we will discover the effects for both you and your baby if you do not breastfeed at all.
Reasons why women don’t breastfeed
The CDC state that in 2018 – 2019 only 84.1% of babies were ever breastfed. Of these breastfed babies, 58.3% were breastfed up to 6 months, and only 35.3% were breastfed up to 12 months old.
Breastfeeding a baby is a very personal choice. No two women will share the same experience as each mother, and each child is unique. Breastfeeding is not just a physical activity to provide food. It is an emotional and mental experience for both baby and mother. It’s a relationship.
Mothers can’t breastfeed when:
Their baby has a medical condition or they have a medical condition which prevents them from physically being capable of breastfeeding, such as:
- Insufficient glandular tissue (hypoplastic breasts)
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Previous breast surgery (mastectomy or a breast reduction surgery)
- Prior radiation treatment for breast cancer
- She or her baby were in critical conditions after birth and couldn’t establish a latch and milk supply during the first few crucial days.
Mothers shouldn’t breastfeed when:
- She is using medication that is not safe for breastfeeding
- She is dependent on drugs and/or alcohol
- She has infectious diseases which can carry over to her child
- She is advised by a medical professional to discontinue due to health reasons
Mothers don’t want to breastfeed when:
- She had a traumatic birth creating a mental/emotional block or has physically reduced her milk supply
- She has PTSD related to an assault and breastfeeding causes distress to the mother
- She has post-partum depression
- She is a working mom who doesn’t have time, or the environment doesn’t allow her, to pump milk while at work
- She didn’t have support and guidance from her birthing team, e.g. the nurses gave formula to the baby even though the mother requested otherwise, she was not assisted with helping the baby latch, etc
- She doesn’t have the necessary support from friends and family
- She feels uncomfortable breastfeeding. It is not a pleasant, bonding experience for her
There is an exhaustive list of reasons why mothers don’t breastfeed, and you should never feel guilty or judged for not wanting to, or being able to breastfeed.
As mentioned before, each person has a unique breastfeeding experience. It remains your choice to breastfeed or not. But before you make this very important decision, you need to know how it will affect you and your baby.
Breast is best
We have all heard the cliché ‘Breast is best’. It is a cliché because it is true. The human body is an amazing work of art filled with so many mysteries. It boggles my mind how my body just knows how to change my breastmilk to suit my baby’s needs.
While breastfeeding, I would pump out milk for my little one to feed him in times that I couldn’t be with him. I noticed that week by week, the color of the milk would change, and sometimes even the consistency would differ slightly. These changes became more prominent when my baby was sick. This fortified the knowledge I had about my milk being exactly what my baby needs when he needs it.
Medical professionals advise mothers to breastfeed their babies exclusively from birth up to 6 months old. The reason being is that there are so many benefits to breastfeeding. From 6 months onwards, you should supplement your breastmilk with small portions of food. Breastmilk should still remain the main source of nutrition.
As from 12 months onward, most professionals agree that breastmilk loses some of its nutritional value and continuing to breastfeed is largely beneficial only for bonding.
The effects of not breastfeeding your child at all
I remember, especially in the beginning of my breastfeeding journey, I felt so overwhelmed. I felt pressured to breastfeed because I was constantly told to think of my baby and the benefits for him, irrespective of my mental, emotional and physical well-being.
“Just push through, it gets easier!” I was told so many times. Truth be told, it did get easier with time, but I often found myself thinking that I should just switch to formula. The benefits of breastfeeding always outweighed my decision to switch.
Here, I am going to share the effects of not breastfeeding your baby, and my honest opinions and experiences on these points.
Effects of not breastfeeding your baby:
Breastmilk has the perfect blend of vitamins, minerals, fats and protein that your baby needs to grow healthy and strong. Not breastfeeding means that you will need to do research and select an appropriate formula for your baby.
There are many different types of formula milk to choose from and each one holds a different composition of vitamins, minerals, fats and protein to cater to babies with different ages and conditions (lactose intolerance, reflux, colic, etc).
You will need to change formula milk every few months, and the transition itself has requirements. You might also have to supplement formula milk with vitamins and minerals to ensure that they grow to be healthy and strong.
Breastmilk is easier to digest compared to formula, therefor your little one’s intestinal health will be affected if you do not breastfeed. Babies can often times get cramps from gas built up in their tummies.
The gas can be due to many reasons, but mainly due to diet (formula or mothers diet if breastfeeding), and swallowing winds when drinking from a bottle.
Your breastmilk carries over antibodies that help build your baby’s immune system. By not breastfeeding you increase health risks for your baby.
By not breastfeeding, you increase your chances of regular trips to the doctor and hospital, meaning more sleepless nights for you and your baby.
Thankfully the reflux and colic disappeared after 6 months, but to date, my son has been diagnosed with asthma. I truly believe in the benefits of breastmilk and if given a do-over, I would choose my breastfeeding journey again, but it is not always as cut-and-dry as we are made to believe.
Research has indicated that exclusively breastfed babies tend to have a slightly higher IQ presented later in their childhood. Although this kind of research has been completed in different countries who get find similar results, these are many variables to consider too.
Not breastfeeding your baby doesn’t mean the little one won’t be smart. But it may affect cognitive ability and development in the long-run.
Breastfed babies usually gain the right amount of weight thus minimizing the health risks associated with an overweight child. Whereas formula-fed babies, tend to be over- or underweight at some point in their infant lives.
Although it is easy to see and control the amount of formula your baby takes in, it still remains easy to over-or underfeed your baby. Look out for signs here.
The physical touch and skin-on-skin time spent with your baby while breastfeeding is irreplaceable. Combine this with eye contact and loving smiles, and you have an unbreakable bond that you will cherish for the rest of your life.
If you don’t breastfeed, you may affect your child’s sense of security which may lead to behavioral problems later in their childhood. Be sure to take a quiet time to feed, have skin-on-skin time as much as possible, and give a lot of love and attention to your little one.
Effects of not breastfeeding for mom:
Breastfeeding helps mothers burn a lot of calories and lose pregnancy weight fast. By not breastfeeding, you will need to put in extra efforts to lose the baby belly. A healthy diet and frequent exercise will be your go-to, and even then, it will take much longer to lose weight compared to breastfeeding mothers.
Increased health risks
A woman who has breastfed is less likely to develop breast or ovarian cancer, as well as osteoporosis. Thus, by not breastfeeding, you increase your risk of developing these diseases. It is best to speak to your physician and have regular tests done to ensure your good health.
If you don’t breastfeed, you will go through a period of engorgement until your body gets the picture that you won’t be nursing. It’s pretty painful but not unbearable. Your breasts will get really big and full until you stop producing milk.
Having a baby is an overwhelming experience. I’m sure most of you can relate, during my pregnancy I was bombarded with so much information in the form of people giving advice, and research stemming from my own fears. But always keep in mind that a healthy baby is a happy baby.
At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong. As long as you evaluate each decision about your baby with the importance it deserves, do your research, weigh up your options, and do what’s best for both you and your baby, you will be fine!
Comment and share your stories below. I would love to hear about your breastfeeding (or not) journey!