Nursing: Considering Giving Up?


I'm trying to nurse my baby, but it's just not working. She cries all the time, and I feel like crying all the time! I really want to quit, but my friends tell me it will hurt my baby's health. I feel overwhelmed. What should I do?

Dr. Greene's Answer

Many new mothers feel the way you do. This is a time that most expectant parents have looked forward to with delight. We dream of a wonderful baby who will fill our lives with joy, and we are overwhelmed by the difficulties that often arise.

As a pediatrician, I am often asked if either bottle feeding from birth, or weaning from the breast when a baby is very young, will negatively affect the baby. This is actually a very difficult question.

The medical facts are that babies and mothers benefit tremendously from the nursing experience. This general truth, however, does not determine whether nursing will be best for a specific mother and baby under their specific conditions.

For some mothers, nursing is either impossible or impractical. Occasionally, nursing can become so stressful that mothers cannot enjoy their babies. Even though scientific studies have not measured the impact of a mother’s enjoyment of her baby, I believe that it has a profound effect on the child. In addition, if nursing is not going well, it is possible that the baby is getting inadequate nutrition. Alternatively, bottle-fed babies (including many of us who are now parents) generally grow up healthy and love their mothers.

Before you decide to give up nursing, though, I recommend that you try a few simple things that might make the situation much easier for both of you. If these don’t work, you can still decide to switch to bottle feeding. If, instead, you choose hastily to stop breast feeding, you might never be able to go back. Here are my suggestions:

  • Ask the baby’s father, a family member, or close friend to come and help you for a few days. During that time, pamper yourself!
  • Get as much sleep as possible. Let the dirty dishes stack up if you must. There will be lots of time for cleaning later on. Take naps. This is not being lazy; it is being loving.
  • Drink at least eight glasses of water a day. This will help increase your milk supply.
  • Don’t feed your baby more than every hour-and-a-half to two hours. She may want to eat more often, but if you wait a bit longer she may eat more and stay full longer. You may not have the milk she needs for this in less than an hour-and-a-half (from start time to start time).
  • You may not feel great about how you look right now. It will take time to get your pre-pregnancy shape back. Still, sacrificing proper nutrition in order to lose weight is not in anyone’s best interest. Get adequate nutrition and continue taking your prenatal vitamins.
  • Talk with your pediatrician and/or a lactation consultant who may well have specific insight into your situation.
  • Call your OB. You may be suffering from hormonally induced postpartum depression. Help is available.

Nursing has a great many proven benefits. Still, one of the best things you can do for your daughter’s overall health is to keep falling in love with her. If nursing is interfering with this, bottle-feeding may be in your daughter’s and your family’s best interest.

Last medical review on: December 07, 2010
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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