Why Some Women Decide Not to Breastfeed

Mother bottle feeding their baby

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For some people, the decision to breastfeed is an easy one. But others face barriers related to mental and physical health, finances, practicality, or information. These can make the choice more complicated.

While experts such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Institutes of Health, and the World Health Organization all recommend exclusive breastfeeding for a minimum of six months, the most important thing is that your baby is fed.

Even though breastfeeding encouraged, using formula instead is an option, too. Families should choose the feeding method that works best for them.

Changing Trends in Breastfeeding

Today, more and more people breastfeed. However, in the past, formula feeding was far more popular. Many new parents' own parents used formula. Grandparents may not understand the benefits of breastfeeding and may even discourage the practice.

Grandparents or other older relatives who have little or no experience nursing a child cannot offer advice or guidance. Some communities may also have a bias against breastfeeding or stigma attached to the practice.

Sometimes partners and friends may not have enough information about breastfeeding either. Partners may fear that breastfeeding will interfere with the couple's relationship or they may just think using formula will be easier.

Family members play a vital role in breastfeeding success. Without their support, many people may choose not to breastfeed.

Return to Work or School

It can be overwhelming to handle a new baby, family responsibilities, a home, and the additional stress of work or school. If the stress of pumping or breastfeeding feels overwhelming or frustrating, a parent may decide not to breastfeed. Additionally, regular pumping is not always feasible with every work or school schedule.

Influence of Healthcare Providers

Some healthcare professionals are not educated in breastfeeding techniques or how to handle breastfeeding issues. If the parent's or baby's healthcare provider does not support or understand breastfeeding, any challenges that arise may not be adequately resolved. Or the parent may not be encouraged to continue to nurse.

Lack of Support

The truth is that getting breastfeeding established can be difficult, particularly without guidance on skills like latching, positioning, and preventing nipple pain and engorgement. Many first-time parents do not have breastfeeding support once they leave the hospital. Sometimes, they don't get much help while in the hospital either.

They may not know where to turn to for help or who to go to with questions if they run into problems. They also may not know how common it is to have some struggles or frustration as they learn to breastfeed.

They may assume they aren't making enough milk, even if they are, which is called perceived insufficient milk supply. If new parents are not given follow-up instructions and information on the resources available to them, they may be more likely to stop breastfeeding.

Financial Barriers

Lactation specialists and pump rentals can be expensive. If women will need to pump and do not know where to go for assistance or do not qualify for programs such as WIC, then they may not be able to afford to get the help they need to continue to breastfeed.

However, it's worth noting that in the long run breastfeeding tends to be much less expensive than using formula. Aside from any pumping supplies, which not all women even need, breastfeeding is free.

Personal Issues

Awkwardness, body image issues, stigma, fear, and lack of confidence can all contribute to negative feelings about breastfeeding, says Tamika Auguste, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist practicing in Washington, D.C.

Concerns about exposing the breasts to nurse can also make people feel uncomfortable. "Modesty is personal," says Dr. Auguste. But there are many ways to help breastfeeding feel more private, such as using cloth coverings or nursing only at home.

When thoughts of breastfeeding cause embarrassment, discomfort, or shame, it is more likely a parent will decide against breastfeeding. Additionally, some people see breasts as sexual objects and may have a hard time getting past that.

Health Concerns

Even though people with many types of health issues can breastfeed and are often encouraged to do so, it can still be difficult. Certain health conditions can cause a low milk supply, or a parent might worry about medications that they take and how they may affect their baby.

This can be overwhelming and exhausting. But research shows that obstacles to breastfeeding are often confused with contraindications.

Women who have had breast cancer may not be able to breastfeed after radiation therapy or a mastectomy. Plus, there are some health-related issues, such as HIV infection, when breastfeeding is not recommended.

A Word From Verywell

In some situations, barriers to breastfeeding can be overcome. But it's also a personal choice that should be respected. "We need to educate women about the benefits of breastfeeding, but also emphasize that if you can't breastfeed [for whatever reason], your baby will be just fine," says Dr. Auguste.

People who breastfeed should not pass judgment on people who decide not to breastfeed, and vice versa. As parents, we all need to be understanding of each other's choices and support each other no matter which method of feeding (or parenting) we choose. Ultimately, we all want the same thing—to have happy, healthy children.

8 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading
  • American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books; 2011.

  • Lawrence RA, Lawrence RM. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession, Seventh Edition. Mosby; 2011.

By Donna Murray, RN, BSN
Donna Murray, RN, BSN has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Rutgers University and is a current member of Sigma Theta Tau, the Honor Society of Nursing.