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I won’t ask you why you didn’t breastfeed

This post isn't addressed to any person in particular, but is addressed to any friend who ends up not breastfeeding. I was inspired to write it when I read these words by my friend Arwyn from Raising My Boychick:

So make the space. When someone says she didn’t breastfeed because it was creepy, listen to her. When someone doesn’t want to tell you why she didn’t breastfeed, or gives you a reason you know to be false, realize you don’t know the whole story, and grant her her privacy. When someone says she didn’t love every damn minute of nursing, don’t assume she’s anti-breastfeeding.

Mostly, shut up and listen.

I agree with Arwyn's words, but wanted to take it a step back and explain to my readers and friends why I won't ask: "Why aren't you breastfeeding?".

Dear friend,

I won't ask you why you didn't breastfeed. It isn't because I don't care about you (I do). It isn't because I don't want to hear your story (I'm here to listen). It isn't because I'm judging you smugly in silence (I'm not). But I won't ask you.

I won't ask you because it is none of my business. The decision to breastfeed or not is a very personal one. People sometimes have very personal reasons for choosing not to breastfeed. That can include medical reasons, past sexual abuse, or simply feeling repulsed by the idea of breastfeeding. Sometimes people really wanted to breastfeed and tried really hard, but it just didn't work out and talking about it opens the wounds again each time.  So I won't ask, because I don't want people to feel forced into telling me something extremely personal and I also don't want them to lie about their reasons in order to avoid telling me something so personal. I respect your privacy.

I also won't ask you because I don't like people inadvertently spreading myths about breastfeeding. While a lot of people do stop breastfeeding for perfectly good reasons (personal ones or medical ones), there are also lots of people who stop breastfeeding because they believed something that just wasn't true. Maybe they thought their breasts would get saggy (not true), maybe they thought they didn't have enough milk because their baby always seemed hungry (sometimes true, but usually not), maybe they thought a bottle would help their baby sleep better (nope), maybe they believed that because their diet isn't perfect that their baby wouldn't get enough nutrients from breastmilk (not true). When they repeat those myths over and over again, other people internalize them, believe them, pass them along and contribute to myths passing as truths.

So I won't ask.

But if you do want to tell me your story, which a lot of people do, I am here to listen. I will, as Arwyn suggests, first and foremost shut up and listen. When I respond, I will never question whether you tried hard enough or whether your reasons were good enough. That isn't my place.  I will support you and I will mourn with you the loss of your nursing relationship (if that is how you perceive it).

But, and this is where it becomes difficult for me, I will try to gently correct any incorrect information that you share. I won't jump right in and say "that is complete nonsense". Instead, I will ask questions and try to understand why you believe what you do. As I do that, I'll try to find the most gentle, caring way to share with you the information I have that is different.

This is really hard because people get defensive. They may get defensive because they are using a commonly held breastfeeding myth as a cover for a deeper reason for not breastfeeding that they do not want to share and they really don't want their cover to be blown. Or they may get defensive because they really believed that myth and if it isn't true, then it puts their decision into question.  I don't want to blow anyone's cover and I don't want anyone to feel bad about a decision that they made, especially if they made it because of bad information given to them by someone else. But...but...but...I don't want other women to give up on breastfeeding because they believe something to be true that really isn't true and I don't want you to be robbed of the opportunity to nurse your future children (if you want to) because you believe something that really isn't true.

So I'll listen, I'll support you, I'll support your decision (whether made with good information or bad), but I will, ever so gently, correct any information that is not true. And I'm so sorry for that. I hope you can forgive me.

Take care,


I should note as well, because I couldn't find a way to work it into the letter, that if I know a friend is planning to breastfeed, I often try to arm them with good information (e.g. good books, good websites, how to find a lactation consultant) ahead of time and let them know that I am there if they have any questions at all. I extend the offer to help, but I don't push it. It is up to them to take me up on the offer if they so choose.

Image credit: Lettres de Lou by Arslan on flickr

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Reader Comments (153)

This is beautiful. Thank you. Your friends are very lucky to have you in their corner.

I owe my breastfeeding success to the women who were kind enough to listen and help.

(There were plenty who were negative, though, that's for sure.)

I only hope that someday I can pass on what I've learned!

Thanks again for another wonderful post. This articulates so well what I've been thinking about recently. I've been in this situation a few times recently and I know that my attempts to correct misinformation about breastfeeding (mostly the "formula will help my baby sleep"-myth) have gotten people's backs up a bit. I've felt really terrible that my friends might have even for a split-second thought that I don't support their decision (which is never the case). Personally, this is a great reminder that I really do need to employ the "just shut up a listen" approach a bit more, but also not to give up on dispelling all the misinformation out there about breastfeeding. Thanks.

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

This describes so articulately how I feel.

I support everyone who wishes to breastfeed. I mourn the loss of their nursing relationship with them... or FOR them. I always wish I could do more to help.

One of my close friends had her baby recently. She was bound and determined to breastfeed, and I shared advice with her... websites that had helped me, and my "A Nursing Mothers Companion" book, my nursing pillows. When she struggled, and became disappointed, and I watched her using nipple shields, bottle feeding her 2 day old because he 'fell asleep too often to nurse"... I mourned. I hated that she wouldn't accept my help. I wished she would ask. I offered once, "anything, any help you might need, I am here."

And I stepped back to let her fail or succeed as she saw fit. It hurt me more than I can describe that she didn't value my experience as a nursing mom, nor as a woman that has helped multiple other moms adjust to nursing. But I would not force anything upon her. Some people have to forge their own path, wherever it takes them.

I will continue to offer my help to other new moms, hoping they accept it before giving up.

I recently told a friend that what another friend told her (That her son would never take a bottle because she didn't start it early to 'get him used to it') was wrong and likely the cause of her latch issues and sore nipples. I tried to do so nicely (The other friend in this issue is my very best friend in the whole world and I meant no offense, we're good at telling each other when the other is wrong!) and offered to help the new mother by showing her a few positions and tricks for getting a nice wide open mouthed latch. She declined at the time and I haven't heard from her since.

I keep going over the conversation in my mind and asking myself 'was I too pushy?', 'was my information overwhelming?'. 'Did I approach her issue with enough love and support or did I make her feel pressured and bullied?' I hope that she is doing well, and that she called the lactation consultant I suggested and continued to breastfeed. but I can't help but feel guilty that I couldn't help, and that it has caused a disconnect.

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterpocket.buddha

This is really great, and so true - it's advice I should probably take because I more often than not ask how nursing is going, if they are doing it etc.

But wrong information is wrong information. If you tell me that Canada was founded in 1901, I'll correct you. If you tell me incorrect information about breastfeeding/bm etc. I will likely, although gently, correct you.

If you say it is creepy, I will be shocked and extremely disappointed that it is viewed that way. I guess it would be silly of me to ask why we have them in the first place.

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Perfectly worded. Nothing I can say could possibly add to this. Thanks.

Shared. Just beautiful, and gentle.

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

I have a friend who just had a baby. I told her that if she needs resources, I can get them to her and if she wants help, I will do everything I can to help her meet her breastfeeding goals, but I won't mention it again if she doesn't bring it up.

It's hard: you don't want to underestimate someone's desire to breastfeed and not give them the help they need, but you don't want to overestimate it either and look pushy.

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTopHat

What a great post, it actually brought me to tears. I would have written this to my best friend and worded it just the same. She asked for my help and I flew from CA fo FL to be there for her and her decision to breastfeed but even with my help she gave up because her other kids had done fine on formula. It devistated me, but it wasn't my decision to make. I grieved in silence (and of course to my hubby) but never let her see it.

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKat

What an awesome post, and a fabulous reminder. I, too, don't shut up and listen enough. I respect the fact that everyone will make their own opinions on these things, but to just be there and listen is sooo important.

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKerstin

I think it would be wise to consider WHY a woman might consider it "creepy" before passing judgement. You would probably be horrified with me because, in my case, it does disturb or "creep" me. Why? Because I was molested for a long time by 2 different men. It doesn't bother me at all to see someone else do it, but I cannot. Please keep these things in mind before you express your "extreme disappointment" to them.

The above letter was beautiful.

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLainie

What a lovely and well-put post! I have been That Woman who needed a lot of help and have grabbed it everyplace I could find it. To the best of my knowledge, hypoplasia has meant I've needed supplementation for our two girls, but I was pleased to nurse our last child for 3.5 years anyway and am trying now to read and prepare for a more successful nursing experience this winter.

I am glad when people don't force information on me; instead waiting for me to inquire about it when I feel secure and comfortable. I have also been alarmed at how many people offer information as if they know and are sharing utter nonsense. I know I need help but even *I* know that the nurse where I asked for my old mammogram films was mistaken when she said I shouldn't even bother trying to figure out how or why I couldn't nurse 100%. She said her milk 'wasn't rich enough', and mine probably wasn't either, and I should save myself the bother but she'd give me the films if I really wanted them. I did-- I thought my lactation consultant and LLL leader might like to see them, and thought it might help with glandular tissue questions. She shrugged and handed them over. I was embarrassed, but I got what I came for.

Anyway, especially if someone's just going to perpetuate myths I'd rather they say nothing than act like they know what they're talking about-- ESPECIALLY if they're a medical professional. That being said, I'm SO glad to accept real help whenever and wherever I can find it, and am glad to have friends like you who listen and help as I'm ready to divulge and share my struggles and concerns.

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJen

Absolutely fabulous post. I am one of the many that tried and failed 3 weeks in for many, many reasons. I do feel, and probably always will feel, horrible about that. Always teary when I think about it. Thanks for being such a wonderful and respectful friend to anyone like me you happen to meet. I am always scared of being judged (particularly because every friend I have that has chosen to breastfeed has done so successfully, and it makes me feel so inferior!) and I hope that most of them (if not all of them) feel as you do! Love your blog, so thanks for writing!

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPurpleRhino

I wish everyone who advocates breastfeeding (or any other issue around parenting) would adopt the same philosophy. I'm personally very thankful for the (non-judgmental) lactivist community online and the information you put out there because in future, I hope to have more success breastfeeding through what I've learned.

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

This is beautifully and respectfully written. I agree with Fearless Formula Feeder who says that your friends are lucky to have you in their corner.

I also do not ask if a friend either is breastfeeding or, if she didn't, why she didn't. It is genuinely not my business and the subject is such an emotional and difficult one for many women. I can still remember how shattered I felt when a well-meaning friend, visiting when my eldest was 6 days old and not latching well (she was a late prem), watched me struggle to attach her then eventually give her a bottle of expressed breast milk in tears, and said "You know she's going to get nipple-teat confusion, right? You're kind of sabotaging the future there. You'll never get her going if you don't just persist with it." I was devastated and I did not feel like I was able to even speak to that friend for months.

On the other hand, a friend who listened to me sympathetically when I was in despair at 2 weeks postpartum, hugged me, and said, "Hey, if you want, I could give you the number of the LC I used? She's really good and not too expensive" was my greatest breastfeeding hero. That LC helped my eldest and I over the hurdle and she went on the breastfeed until 16 months, self-weaning early into my second pregnancy. That kind of breastfeeding advice, information, support was so welcome to me (the same friend, herself a nurse, set my fears to rest about breastfeeding my second with a staph infection in my nipples - various scaremongers had put the frighteners on me about that, but my friend gave me the *facts* and the facts strengthened me. That child went on to feed until 23 months).

With my friends, I try always to supportive and available, and to share information when asked. I actually don't tend to directly contradict people if they are talking just to me about their own experience - after all, it may not be objectively true that giving a baby a bottle helps them sleep through the night earlier, but if the person in front of you is convinced that it did for *her* baby, doesn't it sound a little rude to flatly deny her subjective experience? I wasn't, after all, there, with *that* baby, in *that* situation. Where I do (gently, I hope) intervene is when myths are being passed on to other mothers or mothers-to-be. The ones that are by far the most pernicious in my circle of acquaintance are 1) Formula makes babies sleep longer earlier and b) Lots of women don't make enough milk for their babies. When I hear those ones being trotted out in general conversation, I do take them on. I hope I do so respectfully - I certainly aim to - but it would be wrong to let them stand if doing so contributes to disinformation that can harm another woman's ability to nurse downstream.

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKathy

It's great that you have information and resources you can offer, but think your are 100% correct that it is none of your business unless asked and it is 100% up to the mother to make the decisions regarding her baby even if you think they are bad.

My baby had a great latch to begin with, and I had a great milk suply, but he despised the flow of my milk - I say despised because he screamed miserably whenever I attemptied to nurse him during the first three months. I had a really traumatic birth experience that ended in a c-section and after that I suffered really severe postpardum depression and anxiety. On top and maybe because of that, my baby basically cried whenever he was awake for three months. It was just too much for me to take. I felt like the one thing that would calm most babies made mine even more upset. I spent hours with a lactation consult and tried different positions. I finally moved to the pump. I thought when my baby got older he would handle my let down and we would go back to nursing, but I found that it took longer to nurse than to give a bottle in the middle of the night and since I went back to work (and have to use my brian there) sleep was crucial. At 6 months I am still pumping. I will do it as long as I can, and its easier now that I have a full supply because I'm down to 3 times a day. I do supplement when my milk gets wasted (if he's not actually hungry when I think he is), but I found an organic, bpa and corn syrup free formula (Babies Only by Nature's One), which I'm considering his first food. I am going to try to pump as long as I can, although I am worried about how to start traveling for work, which is something required for my job that I will have to get back to in a couple of months. Working mom's have real challenges in the way of successfully nursing.

I hope that you will also share pumping as an option with mom's you know that still have their milk supply and have tried everything to successfully nurse but are miserable. Mom's need to be healthy and happy for their babies to be that way.

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMolly

I think this is a great post. I don't think that, in this society and in these times, ANYONE can judge a mother who chooses not to breastfeed or who tries to breastfeed and ends up stopping earlier than she wanted. (Sometimes, when I look at all the birth interventions and the hospital routines that interfere and the misinformation and the formula advertising, I think it's a miracle that any mother is actually able to breastfeed!! It seems quite miraculous.).

I do find that, at times, especially when the baby is small, I want to talk to the mother about feeding because I want her to know that it's not too late if she changes her mind. I have helped a few mothers who, once they got past the stressful early days when their bodies were recovering and their emotions were overwhelming, decided that they would like to give breastfeeding another try. They were able to restart their milk production and get the baby back to the breast. Usually mothers don't know, until they talk to me, that this is even an option. So I try to ask in a non-threatening, non-judgmental way - something like "how have the baby's feedings been going?" that opens the door if she wants to talk about it. Some don't, some do.

I know how close I came to not breastfeeding my children. The nurse in the hospital where my first son was born told me I had "the wrong kind of nipples for breastfeeding." I was given a long list of rules (2 minutes per side, every 4 hours, increasing by 2 minutes each day until you reach a maximum of 20 minutes per side. Top up after every feeding with sugar water. Wash nipples before and after each feeding with some horrible disinfectant that burned) that would have guaranteed failure if I'd followed them. In some ways it seems easier these days, but in other ways I think it is harder. So I have no judgment for other women who are just trying to do their best in a world where breastfeeding is so much harder than it should be.


July 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTeresa Pitman

I suppose this is a good and needed article. But I can't say that I totally agree. I am the mom of a six month-old, and while breastfeeding is going okay, it certainly didn't begin that way, nor can I say that it is my favorite thing to do in the whole wide world. I sometimes resent that my baby nurses and so frequently at that. But it's my job as his parent to give him the best possible start in life and health. And yes, I judge people who put their own convenience ahead of their baby's welfare.

I know this doesn't cover everyone who does not BF or EBF. But I have a 'friend' whose husband has a serious but preventable (but also possibly genetic) digestive condition, which has been linked to formula. In stubborn disregard for the facts she has decided to overdose her baby with formula, which is a huge risk factor for said health condition. I tried to give her information, encourage her to just give it a shot, or even to just pump her colostrum, all to no avail. Formula is just more convenient, she says; besides, her breasts belong to her husband. At two weeks he was hospitalized, diagnosed with acid reflux, and given a rx for zantac--an adult dose antacid. All this for the sake of "convenience." I do judge her for that. But hey, at least he started sleeping through the night at 3 weeks!

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterS's Lovey

Great post but wish others would grant the same respect. I do not want to be asked why I do not use formula. Respect goes both ways and I feel that the sensitivity tends to veer toward formula feeders that feel attacked. Breastfeeding mothers put up with a lot too.

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterVeronica

I like Arwyn's "shut up and listen." Especially the period after the listen part. That's nice.

A woman who has a failed breastfeeding attempt due to bad information is either grieving to some degree or perhaps, miraculously and wonderfully, has managed to move on. I appreciate the motive behind myth-busting, and if it must be done, please be gentle. You may completely destroy a grieving mother, or send a recovered mom into despair.

Or just perhaps, the failure was not due to bad information or anything that the mom (or her care providers) did wrong.
For example, my body does not go into lactogenesis II postpartum. I've had two babies and never has my prolactin "surged." No LC or doctor has been able to tell me why and I've spent thousands of dollars in assessments and hormone panels, LC visits, breast pumps, finger feeders, SNS . . . .

Yet when conversing with other moms, when the issue comes up I get disbelief. I get questions about my births, I get questions on whether we kangaroo cared, nursed immediately after birth, I get questions on whether I nursed my newborns on demand, how many times a day, did I inspect my placenta carefully . . .

I believe my lactivist friends are well-intentioned. They don't want to believe that a woman just doesn't make milk (with a lot of domperidone and pumping I eventually managed to build up to a 12 ounce a day production).

In short, they were searching for a "myth" they could bust.

It felt like they were looking to find something I did wrong. Well, because they were.

One woman's myth-busting may be another woman's heartbreak.

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKelly

Great post Annie!! So eloquently said

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJudy @ MommyNewsBlog

This reminded me (in a different way) of something I wrote but wasn't able to distribute through our LLL because it was too...something! :-)

But now I have my own blog...Enjoy!


July 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJess@minimalistmum

This is exactly how I felt for a long time. I don't talk or blog about breastfeeding for exactly some of the reasons you mentioned. I hope one day they look at me and say: It IS possible to breastfeed successfully; so I'll try too.

My usual offer is : You can approach me anytime, about anything and I'll pass on the information I got so that YOU can make a well-informed decision.

And I am seeing more and more women successfully (as defined by themselves) breastfeed their babies.

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMeei

Lovely. And sensible. Women are confronted by so much and so much differing advice around childbirth and breastfeeding I have made it a rule to myself not to proffer advice unasked or judge others choices, especially without understanding. It is also like perpetually asking people when or if they are having a baby - if they want you to know what is going on, they will tell you. I think it is important to be able to offer advice and correct misunderstandings, but it is more important to be a friend or colleague who listens, empathises and shows that you care.

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

"let them know that I am there if they have any questions at all. I extend the offer to help, but I don’t push it. It is up to them to take me up on the offer if they so choose."

I do this, too, and I've been pleasantly surprised at how many people take me up on the offer of help. Often it's months, sometimes even years later after I've mentioned "just in case you need it, I do breastfeeding support and would be glad to help you if you have any questions or just need to talk stuff through after the baby is here." Facebook has helped me help so many more moms than before (including goofy things like a former co-worker's wife, who I've never met.)

thanks for writing this, to help put into words what many of us are out here doing, and why if we do get talking with someone who isn't breastfeeding about their status, we might offer more accurate information in cases of inaccuracies.

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

This is wonderful.

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKara

This post made me cry. Thank you for putting my feelings into words. It feels good to know I am not the only one who feels helpless and hopeless with this subject on so many levels when trying to be supportive to a friend and mother.

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterrebecca

I think it's strange, that a woman should "grieve" if she doesn't breastfeed. (I'm not attacking anyone who said this, I've just never heard that before. I totally respect anyone who might feel/felt this way!!!) I simply decided not to breastfeed, for several reasons. Some woman just simply don't feel devastated by it, I certainly didn't. I think we should be careful with vocalizing that, or vocalize it gently/not at all. I would have felt a little hurt by someone, who was shocked I wasn't grieving. It would have made me feel, that they though I was doing something wrong. Just an observation...I totally support woman who breastfeed.

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commentershell

I'm writing this with tears streaming down my face. Thank you. I have many lactivist friends and acquaintances, and to an extent, I am a lactivist myself. I also never breastfed my first, and abruptly and traumatically weaned my second after only three rocky months of breastfeeding.

So many times I feel like I'm under the inquisitor's glare when I'm asked why I've fed so much formula. None of it is simple. With number one, I was unwilling to risk the effects of the medications I was on at the time for my bipolar disorder. Being well and sane for her was the trade off, and one that was worth it.

With number two, we had a rocky start - I was too unwell after his birth to breastfeed immediately, and then when we did finally get the hang of things, he was unwell off and on - first pertussis, then digestion issues that I have no doubt stemmed from him being premature. Again, though, we got back into the swing of things. At three months, I seriously broke my leg. Four hours of emergency surgery, a six inch metal plate, five screws, and ten pins. I was drugged to the hilt with heavy narcotics for weeks in order to be even somewhat comfortable. I obviously couldn't breastfeed with that much pain medication in me.

I am still grieving. My breasts still ache when he cries - he's only seven months old. I will wake up to find him latched and suckling on my dry breasts. Every bottle I fix him reminds me of the amazing feeling that was our special, irreplaceable bond that came with nursing him, and that it's gone and I can't get it back. I still cry most nights. He is healthy and he tolerates formula well, but none of these feelings are quelled by rationalizations.

My lactivist acquaintances constantly remind me that I could try to relactate, or that I could use banked milk. They don't seem to remember that while I am a stay-at-home mom, I'm also a single mom on a ridiculously tight budget, and I just don't trust anyone well enough to do an informal milk-share. What they don't know about me relactating is that I'm on new meds now to control the chronic pain as well as a new med for my bipolar, so relactating could be dangerous for my mental health and painful in a way that I don't have time to remedy, since I have another child that I need to be functional for.

My wounds are healing slowly, but I often find myself feeling defensive, and being told that I'm just not doing right by him and that I'm being selfish. They don't say it directly to me, of course, but it's said under the guise of "women who don't do so and so or don't want to do so and so are just so selfish." It's like they forget that I'm that woman.

So thank you for not asking, but listening without judging. Thank you for making an effort to let me get my story out, and for being the kindness that I need to maybe heal a little bit more.

July 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJackie

(I'm sorry for the previous comment. My toddler hit 'Submit' before I was done.)

I think that extending the offer of help in advance can almost always be done in a way that is courteous and sensitive. In fact, it doesn't even need to be about breastfeeding, in particular. A general offer of resources, support or a listening ear more or less covers it. Sometimes I'll pass along a LLL bookmark with their contact info and my own phone number, if I know that the person is receptive, but I don't follow up or anything. Pretty much all first-time moms I know want to breastfeed, and they want to know where to find help if they need it.

Correcting misinformation after the fact is much, much trickier. This is something that I struggle with. A really common example that I come across is a nursing strike that ended breastfeeding. There are so many facets to this - was she actually happy to be done or not? How would she feel now, knowing that she likely could have continued? Is she planning to have another child? Often, I will do the same sort of thing I would do with an expectant mom friend. Let her know that if she ever needs help or resources, here's where she can find me. I have let misinformation lie because I felt the situation was too sensitive, and I wanted to preserve the trust relationship more than I wanted to correct the misinformation at that moment.

July 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

Right on! I love this post.

July 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLeigh

Bravo....just because a woman doesn't breastfeed, doesn't mean much at all! It was assumed by many that I was lazy because my children had bottles, when in actual fact I just never seem to keep up a milk supply. I never got that 'engorged' feeling, even when bub hadn't fed for a few hours. With my first I lasted 10 weeks....with my last I persevered until 5 months. And I tried every 'trick' to keep up supply - the biscuits, the juices, extra feeds, expressing, and I drank water until I sloshed, and still my baby was starving. When I stopped cold after giving her a bottle and getting the best sleep out of her she'd ever had, I never even leaked another drop.

For a woman who, for whatever reason, cannot breastfeed, it can be very damaging to judge her - even the formula tin extols in large letters the virtues of breastfeeding - 'Breastmilk is best for your baby' it declares. Offering support is great, but she can do without the attitude.

July 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEmma Trueman


I had a significant struggle to be able to breastfeed my first child. He latched on for the first time at 7.5 weeks and wasn't nursing well until 15 weeks. If I had decided to give up, I certainly would have mourned the loss.

But I know others don't. That is why I said "if that is how she perceives it" in brackets.

July 2, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Thanks. I wish more people followed this philosophy. I know for a fact that I did everything I possibly could, and after seven months, I still can't talk about not being able to breastfeed without tears. Hell, I can barely think about it seriously for more than a minute. Or apparently, even type this much without crying. :(

July 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSara

What a beautiful letter. I really appreciate it. We had an abrupt, early end to the nursing relationship (at 7.5 months), and while it sometimes helps to talk about it, it also opens up old wounds. For some, it is a really hard thing to talk about without getting emotional. I always have the knee-jerk reaction to get defensive when it's brought up, like I'm worried the questioner will think I didn't try hard enough or didn't have the right information.

July 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAngie

Love this post! So well put! Congratulations again for such thought provoking reading!

July 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

Whether it's breastfeeding or some other decision (doesn't even have to be related to parenting, babies or kids), it's really hard to see someone doing something we believe to be bad for them and remain quiet and objective. Because life is not objective. We live it from our personal point of view.

So well done, Annie, both for practicing your self-control and respect and for being so open and frank about it. Because many people are too tempted to disguise their interventions to notice they are stepping into other people's territories to make themselves feel better.

Strangely, when we leave other people enough room, they grow. Then, we are rewarded with their trust and often they adopt our way of thinking for it.

Best regards,

July 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFamily Matters

A new mother will have had the support of her OB and education during her pregnancy on the benefits of breastfeeding. She is also not a child, and should not be made to feel defensive about her choices...nor should she need to explain to anyone what her choices might be. Attempts to "help" are often nothing more than attempts to influence. As an apology is no apology if it begins with "I'm sorry, but...", respect and recognition of choice is not respect and recognition if it is accompanied by, "I respect your choice, but..." Just as another's pregnancy and childbirth experience is different, so, too, are the experiences and feelings that lead to personal childcare choices.

July 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSee McSee

Brilliant letter.

I get angry when I hear the excuses why people didn't feed their baby, not with them with the support they never had. I don't judge mums and I don't express my anger to them.

I've had premature babies, babies with IUGR, babies who started life with a tube down their nose and one in their lungs. I am feeding my babies still. I did it with support. I don't think because I did it others should, I think because I had support to do it in difficult situations others should have support too.

July 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterClaire

beautiful! Thanks for reminding me!

July 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterToni Hill

Jen - I completely get the hypoplasia issue, as that is something i struggle with. I had to supplement my two kids (the first about 50% as he got beyond the first couple months, the second very little) but was able to nurse the first for two years and the second is still going strong after 18 months. Just for your information, your body does make more breast tissue with each pregnancy. I could actually palpate and FEEL the difference the second time.

Also the second time I was very aggressive with non-medical supplements and I think they helped TREMENDOUSLY. (There is a post on my blog if you wanna go look). I also was aggressive about using borrowed milk with my second his first week instead of formula and then made my own formula (Weston Price) which made me feel better about the whole thing.

With a third pregnancy you might find that you DO make enough milk for the baby on your own (I ALMOST did with the second) even if you have to nurse ALL THE TIME. Rah Rah you for pushing through the very real medical issues and finding a way to do all that you could for your baby.

July 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly

UGH. I am so sorry that it is so emotional for you. I had very real medical reasons for not being able to exclusively breastfeed my kids and it is also teary for me. I get mad at my body for failing me. But then I realize that it didn't, and I didn't: I have two healthy, happy kids who are just lovely. We parent the best that we are able. Hugs.

July 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly

I am so sorry that you wanted (and tried harder than I would have!) to breastfeed and were unable to. Good for you for trying in spite of everything. Parenting is hard, no matter what we do.


July 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly

I hate that this topic can be so emotionaly difficult to talk about. Recently, I thought I was being helpful to my pregnant sister by offering info I found helpful. Turns out she felt like I was pushing and judging her and it led to a big fight. *sigh*

Like you, I don't ask, but I also don't offer info unless I'm asked because I'm afraid of ticking someone off.

July 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia

Firstly, I want to thank you for writing this. So many breastfeeding advocates are so mean, pushy, rude (I can up with a few more) and don't take the extra time to find out why someone may not want to breastfeed, or, can't. I agree, there is a lot of misinformation out there, but it isn't necessary to shove it down someone's throat.

I did not breastfeed and no, I will not go into the many reasons why I came to that decision. When I made the decision to stop only a few short days after my son was born, I was crucified by not only the breastfeeding advocates out there, but by my mother-in-law who simply refused to believe that there is any other way. All of the negative feedback I got from my very quick discontinuation of breastfeeding did not help my postpartum depression situation and the guilt... oh the guilt. Not a good place to be for a new mom. My depression did not resolve for close to a year after his birth and am thankful for my OB/GYN and my son's pediatrician for accepting and supporting my decision without question. My now 2 year old son is overall happy, healthy, smart and thriving. I do not regret my decision to quit AT ALL.

What I appreciate about your post is that to breastfeed or not is an insanely personal decision and nobody has a right to judge. I only wish that the others around me who gave me such a hard time over my decision would've just said "I'm here for you to talk about it" instead of "You're making a horrible decision".

Thank you for being strong in your convictions but not forcing them on people. Your friends are lucky to have a friend like you!

July 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoanne

I once said to a friend that I don't care how others choose to feed their children (breastfeeding / formula, offering solids after 6 months / early introduction). But that's really not true... I do care. I wish everyone would / could / wants to breastfeed. But they don't. I accept that even though I don't like it.

I really appreciate your post because, like you, I will try to correct misinformation and it is very difficult. I'm often seen as the "strange one" in our close circle of friends because I am one of very few who extended nurse and do BLW. I once asked someone if they really wanted to know what I thought or if they just wanted to vent about breastfeeding problems. I would listen to their vent and say I'm sorry they were going through this or I could try to help. All they wanted was someone to listen.

July 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRae

I own a maternity/baby store, so I come across this all the time.
Yes, the most common myths (excuses) are:
1. I didn't make enough milk or my milk never came in
2. My nipples were too soar and cracked
3. My baby wouldn't latch on
As a mom who has nursed 4 children (including twins) it is VERY difficult for me to not respond and correct the mother that these are untrue. It really comes down to moms just not knowing enough. If more moms went to LLL meetings or BF support groups, took breastfeeding classes ect. I think that would help.

A huge problem is the negativity of nursing out there, AND the perpetuation that formula is "just fine" many times put out there by other moms who used formula because they felt guilty for not BF'ing or for quitting, ect. When I told people I was going to nurse twins all I heard was, ohhh thats going to be so hard, how will you have enough milk, you're never going to sleep, ect. If I had listened to these comments, I would not have succeeded.

Another comment I hear daily when I ask a mom if she plans to nurse (yes, I ask...as depending on their answer I show our pumps, pads, nursing covers) the answer I ALWAYS get, and I do mean ALWAYS....is a kind of hesitant, "I am going to TRY". Once again this is because of the above mentoned negativity towards nursing and common myths (excuses) moms hear over and over again.

July 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarissa

My struggle was similar to Annie's, though my daughter never did latch (well she did briefly a handful of times at the Newman clinic). I did grieve (perhaps still am grieving). I think the difference is in the decision and the reasons for the decision - I decided to breastfeed and couldn't - so I mourned. It makes sense to me that someone who decided from the beginning not to breastfeed might not grieve in the same way or at all - I'm sure this would be dependent on their reasons for their decision though.

July 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Thank you for your beautiful letter! And thank you for continuing to advocate for breastfeeding in a respectful, non-judgemental way.

July 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

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