Realigning Expectations with Breastfeeding

So, breastfeeding is super great, right? The benefits of breastfeeding are well known and recognized: reduction in infant mortality, decreasing risk of childhood illness, providing passive immunity, promoting maternal-infant bonding, as well as maternal benefits (decreases breast cancer after menopause, ovarian cancer, and heart disease). There are huge strides being taken to promote breastfeeding; however, this strong push to breastfeed needs to also remain sensitive to those who maybe cannot breastfeed, or other circumstances may hinder, delay, or prevent breastfeeding.
I’ve worked on the labor and delivery unit for over six years at a hospital that performs approximately 12,000 deliveries per year. Thus, I’ve observed quite a variety of circumstances that may get in the way of breastfeeding, and I’ve learned that, as a health care provider, we need to provide equal, non-judgmental support to those who cannot breastfeed or have chosen another method of feeding their infant.

Being a parent is one of the most self-less things a human can do, and I commend you. With it, comes a need to be amenable and flexible while doing what is best for you and your baby. Reasons for delayed breastfeeding, inability to breastfeed, or need for additional supplementation (formula) include: preterm delivery, gestational diabetes, maternal type 1 or 2 diabetes, inadequate weight gain, hemorrhage (too much bleeding) after delivery, maternal and/or infant fever (called chorioamnionitis), infant admission to the special care nursery (NICU). Compounded by hormonal fluctuations and mood swings, a new mom may feel intense guilt and/or sadness if the infant requires alternate feeding methods. I hope that by anticipating the need to be amenable, that you can avoid those feelings of guilt.

Pediatricians are always assessing your new baby for positive signs of thriving, growing, and developing, and sometimes they may need a little supplementation to avoid further complications or separation from you. Please do not take this personally or feel that you are failing as a parent. Instead you are growing into a great parent who has their baby’s best interest and health at heart! I highly suggest taking a breastfeeding class and doing some research about breastfeeding and troubleshooting. Know that your health care providers can teach, support, and guide you in whatever your feeding endeavors may be, including providing resources or support group information. Although there is a huge, well-researched push that “breast is best,” I would really like to impart to you that “fed is best,” however that may apply to your situation. Congratulations on expecting/on your new baby, and best of luck!


Mary is a registered nurse certified in inpatient obstetrics, electronic fetal monitoring, and a breast feeding counselor. She works in labor and delivery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. She recently completed her MSN with pending licensure as a Family Nurse Practitioner, and hopes to transition to working in the primary care setting. In her spare time, Mary enjoys yoga, reading, and spending time with friends and family.

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