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Why can My Friends Breastfeed, and I can’t? 

I’ve heard this question countless times, prompting me to realise the importance of addressing it in a blog. Throughout this post, we’ll delve into the various conditions that affect a small percentage of women, preventing them from exclusively breastfeeding like their friends. 

When mothers asked me this question, they are not typically referring to exclusive breastfeeding, but rather to why they can’t breastfeed as effortlessly as their friends. Breastfeeding is often portrayed as a natural and instinctual process, but the truth is that many mothers encounter challenges. That’s why it’s crucial to start preparing your breastfeeding journey during your pregnancy. Understanding what’s normal and being equipped to navigate difficulties can make a significant difference. 

In this blog, we’ll explore some factors contributing to breastfeeding difficulties, which conditions affecting mothers can impede exclusive breastfeeding, and the importance of prenatal preparation for breastfeeding. 

Factors Contributing to Breastfeeding Difficulties:

1. Physical factors: Breastfeeding can be emotionally and psychologically demanding, and factors such as stress, anxiety or a history of trauma can affect a mother’s ability to breastfeed successfully. Feelings of guilt can exacerbate these challenges.

2. Support: The support a mother receives during her breastfeeding journey significantly impacts her success. Having access to knowledgeable IBCLC lactation consultants, supportive healthcare providers (especially the first few hours at the hospital are crucial), and partners and family members can help mothers overcoming challenges. 

3. Preparation: Like everything in life, when we are prepared for something, we can face and overcome difficulties easier than if we are not. This is why it’s so important and highly recommend having an antenatal session specifically focused on breastfeeding to provide essential information, such as how breastfeeding works, why skin to skin contact it’s so important, the importance of the golden hour and the first feed, harvesting colostrum, etc. In these sessions we will empower you and guide you on this incredible journey that you and your baby will soon start without any judgments. 

4. Cultural and societal factors: Cultural attitudes towards breastfeeding and societal rules can also impact a mother’s breastfeeding experience. Pressure to breastfeed in public or unsolicited advice from family members can undermine a mother’s confidence. 

5. Previous experience: Mothers who have had previous breastfeeding issues may approach breastfeeding with fear and apprehension, hindering their success. 

Which Conditions can Affect Exclusive Breastfeeding?

Certain conditions affecting mothers can make exclusive breastfeeding very challenging. There are a small percentage of women suffering with these conditions, but we need to keep this in mind just in case this come across in any consultations. Let’s have a look into these conditions:

  • Past breast surgery: Breast surgeries, particularly reductions and reconstructions, can impact breastfeeding by removing breast tissue, fats and disrupting milk ducts (especially when the access is around the areola).
  • Breast hypoplasia: This condition occurs when glandular tissue is insufficient, often resulting in tubular breasts that cannot produce enough milk for exclusive breastfeeding. These types of breasts are easy to identify because there is an asymmetry, and, they have a characteristic shape. They have a tubular and conical shape, where there’s a lack of breast tissue underneath the breast, and the areolas are big and protruded. 
  • Thyroid conditions: Thyroid imbalances can affect milk production. It’s very important to check the levels after giving birth and adjust them with medication if necessary. 
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (POS): This is a condition, and it’s not a disease. Mothers affected by POS can have difficulties to produce enough milk due to breast hypoplasia or a lack of breast tissue development during the pregnancy. But on the other side, they can also produce an excess of milk. This topic warrants further discussion in a future blog. 
  • Retention of placental remnants: Hormonal disruptions resulting from retained placental remnants can also interfere with milk production. 
  • Prolactin deficit: A deficiency in the hormone prolactin can affect milk production. 
  • Other factors: Certain medications, drugs, and contraceptives containing oestrogens can impact milk production.  

It’s important to note that if there are issues with milk production unrelated to the mother, insufficient feeding, or failure to breastfeed on demand should also be considered. 

Breastfeeding is a deeply personal and individual experience, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Preparation and support are key, which is why it’s essential to connect with an IBCLC qualified lactation consultant during your pregnancy. Having someone you trust to guide you through potential challenges can make all the difference. While some mothers may find breastfeeding to be smooth sailing, others may encounter hurdles along the way. Being prepared ensures that you’re equipped to handle whatever journey lies ahead.  

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