Deciding Not to Breastfeed

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Don't want to breastfeed

July 1999

To the woman who is expecting and apprehensive about breastfeeding: if you don't want to breastfeed then don't. Certainly there are some marginal benefits to breastfeeding, but the baby will receive excellent nutrition from formula, as well. No one can tell you that you have to breastfeed your baby if you don't want to, and you shouldn't have to feel guilty about deciding not to. You are going through a tremendous time of change with your body and yourself. You have a right to assert yourself about this issue.

When I was pregnant with my firstborn, I thought I wanted to breastfeed, but after she was born she and I had so much trouble with it that, in spite of lactation consultants, and trying my best, my baby and I just did not do breastfeeding well together. Every session we both ended up in tears and frustration. I hated it. My husband, who in other respects is a fine person, was a jerk about it, saying that if he were breastfeeding he would do a better job (!) and was such a little twit that a visiting nurse told him off royally one day. My baby and I never got into the swing and I finally asserted myself and refused to nurse her anymore. We were both much happier when she moved to the bottle.

OTOH, when I had my second born, I felt entirely different. Baby #2 loved to nurse, and I loved breastfeeding her. She refused to have anything to do with a bottle, and I resented anyone trying to bottle feed her. The experience was a 180 degree turnaround.

So each baby, and each situation, can be different. You are the person who has to decide how to be the best mother for your baby. If you don't want to breastfeed, simply assert your position, and stock up on bottles.

Only breastfeed if it the right choice for you and your baby. I returned to work when my son turned six weeks old. I intended to express milk and have a care-giver provide that to my son during the day--I would nurse him at other times. But, my son refused to drink from anything but his mama's nipples. The worst was when he screamed with hunger and frustration for seven hours--but never took the bottle. Now, I am the minimally employed, breastfeeding mother of a two year old. My son is happy and healthy. My husband and I burned through our savings in order for me to be home with our son. Was it the right choice? Who knows? My friends whose children are grown and gone think I am a hero. My former colleagues who thought I was a model professional woman think I am a traitor (feeding into all the negative stereotypes). I just did what felt right for my particular family (we don't need much to be happy). There is no right choice, only the choice that is right for you. If you don't want to breasfeed, don't. In my experience, you have two choices: guilty mom or crazy mom. Personally, I bounce back and forth between the two.
Well, you can try it for a few days to get the colostrum into the baby -- that helps a lot with his/her immunities. I also have sensitive nipples, and about the third day I got pretty sore because I didn't know when to detach the baby and he'd just go to sleep nursing and keep on chomping on me. This distress was eased by using 1) Lansinoh ointment, which is ultra-purified modified lanoline, endorsed by the La Leche League, and which really helped my sore nipples until they got a little tougher from nursing! and 2) by learning to disengage at the end of a suck cycle when the baby was clearly drifting into sleep. Disengaging at other times woudl simply produce renewed sucking. I also popped a pacifier in as a placeholder, although I'm sure some people would object -- in fact, he's 10 months now and almost never uses a pacifier anymore, so I am perfectly happy that we used them. If he were 7 years old and still chomping on it I would feel differently!

Anyway, either decision you make you WILL bond with your baby. Getting colostrum into him/her is probably a good thing, and there are documented correlations of various health benefits with breastfeeding, but it absolutely is your decision and you should do what feels right to you -- if you try it and it's not for you, don't force yourself -- the baby might also sense your mood and not nurse as happily as if you were snuggling her and holding a warm bottle while fully relaxed.

When I read your note, I thought about me and my pregnancy. Everyone assumed that I would want to breastfeed, from my husband to my OB/GYN to my family, even to the strangers who would stop me and ask how far along I was. It was very hard because I did not WANT to breastfeed and I was being made to feel that I was such a terrible person because I did not want to nurse my child. It was such a very difficult time in my life and one that caused even greater strive between my husband and me. He was so hurt and angry that I would not want to nurse HIS baby that he resorted to manipulative antics to try to persuade me. It only caused my even greater pain and worry. Especially, because I felt that he was taking my concerns as if they were personally directed at him. It had nothing to do with him and everything to do with me. I could not imagine nursing in public. I am a very private person and the thought of doing something so personal, so private made me very uncomfortable.

For me, though, it was not just a matter of modesty. I also did not want to be so confined. It is really difficult when you are your child's sole source of food. I already felt that I had given up my life--so many hopes, dreams, plans, and goals had to be permanently given up when I found out I was pregnant--I did not want to be further constrained. As it turned out I did decide to breastfeed, but only after reading the long discussions on whooping cough and the debates over immunization. I had it as a child and I had hoped to pass on some of my immunities until my child was vaccinated. But, I also enjoyed some freedom since my daughter started using a bottle at two weeks. From the discussions I had with the other mothers in my group, they wished they were able to leave their babies with someone for more than two hours. Since their babies were exclusively breastfed, they never learned to take a bottle and then refused it as they got older--even if the bottle contained breastmilk.

Breastfeeding can be the best option but it is certainly not the only option. If you are so apprehensive about it, then you should seriously consider not breastfeeding. Whatever decision you make, it should be the best one for you and your baby. Whether a woman breastfeeds her child or not is not the hallmark of a good mother. It is how a woman raises her child/ren that determines whether she is a good mother. And at the end of the day, it is more important that a child is fed than the means by which that feeding is delivered. Breastfed, bottle-fed, or a combination of both (as was my case)--is not so much an issue as long as the child is loved, nurtured, nourished and is able to thrive. You have so many issues to contend with now, feeling guilty about not wanting to breastfeed, in public or otherwise, shouldn't be one. And if you do decide to try breastfeeding, bear in mind, it may not work out. You may experience terrible pain or you or the baby my not like. Also, you may never experience that 'zing' as one mother described it. I know I never did. Or, it may be the best experience of your life. Whatever the outcome, be good to yourself and don't blame yourself.