When You Can Not - Or Choose Not - To Breastfeed

There are circumstances in which a mother cannot—or chooses not to—breastfeed. Estimates of between 5% and 15% of mothers are unable to breastfeed due to health reasons.

Breastfeeding is not recommended for an infant with galactosemia, a rare genetic metabolic disorder, for example. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends against breastfeeding if the mother:

  • Is infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or with human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I or type II
  • Is taking antiretroviral medication or prescribed cancer chemotherapy agents (antimetabolites, for example, which interfere with DNA replication and cell division)
  • Has active, untreated tuberculosis
  • Is undergoing radiation therapy (which requires only a temporary halt to breastfeeding)
  • Is using or dependent upon illicit drugs

There are also times when, for medical reasons, a breastfeeding mother needs to supplement feedings with formula from a bottle.

A Personal Choice

Some moms make the choice not to breastfeed at all or to stop breastfeeding and switch to formula at some point during their infant’s first months of life.

The reasons can range from stress caused by breastfeeding difficulties (problems with latching, painful nipples, mastitis, etc.), to difficulties nursing successfully after a return to work, to simply finding bottle-feeding to be more convenient.

Whatever the reason, mothers who have stopped nursing often deal with feelings of guilt and frustration due to the tremendous public advocacy for breastfeeding.

If you’re considering not breastfeeding or stopping before your baby is at least 6 months old, talk to your doctor, a lactation consultant, family or friends about why. Many breastfeeding problems can be overcome quickly and easily with the right kind of support.

Friends and family can help provide the emotional support you may need—or at least provide a good sounding board as you consider your options.

See also ...

•  When breastfeeding doesn’t work out

This message is not intended to provide individual medical advice. Always seek the advice of a physician or qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have about your health or medical condition, your breastfeeding issues and your infant's health. Never disregard, avoid or delay contacting a doctor or other qualified professional because of something you have read in our emails, webpages or other electronic communications.

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