When You Cannot or Choose Not to Breastfeed

Breast milk is universally considered the “perfect” food for infants—and the only food a baby needs during the first 6 months of life. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) cite important health benefits for both infant and mother in recommending exclusive breastfeeding during that time period.

Still, there are circumstances in which a mother cannot—or chooses not to—breastfeed. Up to 5% of mothers are unable to breastfeed due to health reasons.

Breastfeeding is not recommended for an infant with galactosemia, a rare genetic metabolic disorder. In addition, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control 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. Learn more here.

Personal Choice

Some mothers make the personal 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 feeling too stressed by breastfeeding difficulties (problems with an infant latching on; painful, chapped nipples; a breast infection such as mastitis, etc.) at the outset or by trying to continue 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 are considering not breastfeeding or stopping before your baby is at least 6 months old, talk with your doctor, a lactation support person, family or friends about why. Many breastfeeding problems can be quickly and easily overcome with the right kind of expert 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 ...

Disclaimer: This page is not intended to provide medical advice about your child. Always seek the advice of a physician, qualified healthcare provider or child-development specialist with any questions you have about your child's health, medical condition or development. Never disregard, avoid or delay contacting a doctor or other qualified professional because of something you read here.

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