The Unspoken Angle: Why It’s Okay Not to Breastfeed

A mother’s decision not to breastfeed can quickly spark outrage, mostly and surprisingly from other mothers. While breastfeeding is beneficial for many reasons, not all mothers will walk the same path. Personal and medical reasons can influence a woman’s choice against nursing her child, and we must respect these choices for the health and happiness of both mother and child.


Personal Reasons Why a Mother May Not Breastfeed

Motherhood is a unique journey, and every woman’s experience is different. Personal reasons for not breastfeeding can stem from several factors, each of which deserves understanding and empathy.


1. Trauma

Some women have traumas from previous breastfeeding attempts. For example, between 80 and 90% of mothers experienced pain and bleeding from a nipple fissure, which is when nipple tissues stretch and crack. This unpleasant memory can fuel anxiety and cause emotional distress when considering nursing again.


2. Insufficient energy

Breastfeeding consumes tons of metabolic energy, and nursing mothers burn an average of 500 additional calories daily. In fact, producing breast milk depletes 25 percent of the body’s energy, while the brain only expends 20 percent.

High work demands and household chores make it challenging for mothers to dedicate the time and energy needed for breastfeeding. Although controversial, formula feeding provides a more convenient option, especially for single or working moms juggling multiple responsibilities.


3. Declining mental health

Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention demonstrated that 1 in 8 women in the United States experience postpartum depression. Mental health conditions also cause 9 percent of pregnancy-related deaths.

The postpartum period can be emotionally taxing, and for millions of moms, breastfeeding can exacerbate feelings of depression. Opting for formula feeding may help alleviate this emotional burden.


4. General discomfort with breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is a deeply personal experience. Some mothers simply feel uncomfortable with the idea of breastfeeding due to private, cultural, or sensory reasons.


Medical Reasons Why a Mother May Not Breastfeed

While breast milk is rich in essential nutrients and antibodies, certain medical conditions make breastfeeding impractical or even harmful for some women.


1. Infections or diseases transmissible through breast milk

If a mother carries an infectious disease, physicians may advise against nursing to protect the baby’s health. For example, while the risk of HIV transmission through breastfeeding is less than 1 percent, the likelihood of infecting a newborn remains.


2. Intake of medications unsuitable for children

Some medications required to sustain the mother’s own health might be unsafe for the baby. For instance, chemotherapy drugs for treating cancer can pose serious risks to an infant if passed through breast milk. These drugs, especially cyclophosphamide and methotrexate, can harm a baby’s developing body. In such cases, formula feeding is a safer option.

Related: Chemo Kills – Not Cancer


3. General health

Certain conditions – including polycystic ovarian syndrome, insufficient glandular tissue, and hormonal or endocrine problems – can lower milk supply, making it difficult for a parent to breastfeed. Moms undergoing treatment for cancer or another disease might also worry about how the chemicals in pharmaceuticals may affect their child.

All of the above can be overwhelming, exhausting, and worring for any mother, especially during the postpartum period.


A Reminder to Support a Mother’s Choice

Respecting a parent’s choice not to breastfeed is crucial for fostering a supportive and nurturing environment for all moms. Judgment and guilt surrounding this decision can negatively affect a mother’s mental health, leading to postpartum depression or anxiety. Society must shift its focus toward encouraging open conversations about feeding choices and acknowledging that each mother’s decision is personal and valid.