Breastfeeding is a huge topic that many have deeply held opinions over. We’re shown images on social media of calm and happy mums with their beautiful babies suckling away, satisfied and content. If you’re struggling with breastfeeding or couldn’t breastfeed this can bring up strong emotions, particularly if accompanied by the message ‘breast is best’. In this blog, we will explore the impact this can have and look at how you can overcome the guilt you feel. Don’t forget that breastfeeding is just one aspect of motherhood, and your worth extends far beyond your ability to nurse your child.
Understanding Mum Guilt
Mum guilt, or the feeling of inadequacy and self-blame, is a complex emotional experience that can manifest in various ways. Not being able to breastfeed can intensify these feelings. Whilst it is so common to feel this way, this guilt can eat away at you and can stop you feeling content with your life.
Breastfeeding is often presented as the "gold standard" of motherhood, but it's crucial to understand that it is not the only path to raising a healthy and loved child. There are so many ways to bond with your baby and develop your relationship and recognising this can be the first step in overcoming mum guilt.
Causes of Mum Guilt When Unable to Breastfeed
Several factors can contribute to the development of mum guilt when you can’t breastfeed. Understanding these factors can help you process the emotions to give you some headspace. Some common causes include:
1. Societal Pressure:
Society often places a tremendous amount of pressure on mums to breastfeed. This pressure can make you feel like you are failing when you can’t meet this expectation.
2. Personal Expectations:
Mums often set high expectations for themselves and want to provide the best for their child. When breastfeeding is not possible, you may feel like you are falling short of these standards.
Misinformation, omission of information and unrealistic portrayals of breastfeeding can lead to feelings of guilt. For example, things you may not have been told:
· That breastfeeding isn’t easy, can hurt to start with and lots of people struggle with it.
· That birth trauma or stress surrounding the birth can have an impact on your milk supply.
· That being induced or having c section (especially an emergency c section) can mean your milk takes longer to come in.
· That your baby being premature, particularly sleepy or having tongue tie can sometimes make it harder for them to latch.
4. Hormonal Changes:
Hormonal changes after childbirth can intensify emotional responses, making it more challenging to cope with feelings of inadequacy.
Overcoming Breastfeeding Guilt
As a postnatal counsellor and a mum myself, I know how hard that guilt hits. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, there are some strategies that can be helpful in your journey to overcoming guilt.
Practice self-compassion and be gentle with yourself. Understand that you are doing your best and that your worth as a mum is not determined solely by your ability to breastfeed. In fact the very fact you’re reading this shows how much you care for your little one! Self-compassion can be hard if you’re not used to speaking to yourself kindly. If this is the case for you, imagine what you would say to a friend and then say it to yourself.
2. Seek Support:
Reach out to a support network of friends, family, or professionals. Sharing your feelings and experiences with others can help you process your emotions and gain perspective. If you know there are some people who invalidate your emotions or make your feel worse, whether by what they say or through being highly successful with breastfeeding, it’s ok to choose others to talk to over them.
3. Challenge Negative Thoughts on Breastfeeding Guilt:
Identify and challenge negative thoughts related to not being able to breastfeed. Replace them with positive and empowering affirmations. This is easier said than done in the moment and isn’t in place of your feelings. Start with one thought you have such as ‘I’m not a good mum because I can’t breastfeed’ and switch it to ‘I’m good mum because I’m attentive to my babies needs, they are well fed and get lots of cuddles’. Practice saying it to yourself.
4. Focus on Bonding:
Remember that the bond between you and your child is not solely dependent on breastfeeding. There are numerous other ways to nurture a loving and secure relationship, such as skin-to-skin contact, cuddling, and talking to your baby. Look into their eyes, smile at them, hold them while you’re bottle feeding, stroke their face when they’re sleepy. You are their world, they don’t mind how they get fed.
5. Professional Help:
If mum guilt becomes overwhelming and affects your overall well-being, consider seeking the help of a counsellor. Professional guidance can be a valuable resource in addressing and managing these emotions and so often they come from thoughts and beliefs that predate the birth of your baby, even if they didn’t affect us before.
6. Time and Patience:
Recognise that healing from mum guilt is a process that takes time. It's okay to have moments of guilt, and likely there will always be a bit of guilt that creeps in. Though, being able to recognise it for what it is and address it before it leads to feelings of inadequacy and self-blame will help you lead a more content and fulfilling life.
Mum guilt is a universal experience, and when it's related to not being able to breastfeed, it can be particularly challenging. As a postnatal counsellor, I want to emphasise that your worth as a mum is not determined by your ability to breastfeed. There are many paths to nurturing a strong and loving relationship with your child.
Your love and care are what truly matter in your child's life, and you are more than enough.
Postnatal Counselling in Harrogate & Online
Claire Judd is a fully qualified counsellor in Harrogate, working with postnatal mums. If you’re struggling, get in touch for a free 15 min call to find out how we can work together.
Follow @therapy.for.mums on Instagram for information, tips and advice.