Breastfeeding is a beautiful and sometimes difficult journey. It has many benefits for mom and baby. But when a mom is struggling to breastfeed, it can create disappointment and shame. 

“Many new moms may find themselves suffering in silence as they are dealing with feeding issues,” International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), Cierra Murphy-Higgs said.

New moms might struggle with a low milk supply, latching issues, and other feeding difficulties. This can send them into a whirlwind of disappointment, frustration, and guilt. They might struggle with feeling as though they are failing to meet their baby’s needs, their own expectations, or societal expectations. There can also be a sense of loss, as breastfeeding is often seen as a special bonding experience between mother and baby, Murphy-Higgs explained. 

Breastfeeding is already a challenge for many new parents, but Black women face many additional factors that contribute to lower breastfeeding rates, such as a lack of support and lack of access to quality healthcare. Despite these barriers, many Black women desire to breastfeed their babies. Here’s how to deal with the grief that comes when a mom struggles to breastfeed.

Acknowledge and Accept Feelings

Black moms might appear to wear superhero caps, but they experience the weight of breastfeeding struggles. It’s important for moms to recognize and accept their feelings of disappointment or frustration.

“Navigating the complexities of infant feeding can evoke a whirlwind of emotions – especially when things may not be going as planned,” said Murphy-Higgs. “Validating these emotions can help in processing them effectively.”

Seek Lactation Support

Murphy-Higgs explained that it’s possible to navigate the challenges of breastfeeding with support from healthcare professionals, including lactation consultants. Reaching out to a lactation professional will help moms navigate their feeding journeys. Lactation consultants can also provide support to overcome challenges and create a sustainable and realistic plan. Many insurance providers cover lactation support which, in some cases, lightens the financial burden of seeking help.

Talk to a Supportive Loved One 

Whether it is your partner, a family member, a friend, or a healthcare professional, talking to someone can provide emotional support and reassurance during this time. 

Focus on Bonding

Breastfeeding is not the only way to bond with your baby. Murphy-Higgs encourages moms to emphasize other aspects of bonding with the baby, such as skin-to-skin contact, cuddling, eye contact, and responsive caregiving. 

“These interactions are vital for nurturing the mother-infant relationship regardless of the feeding method,” she explained. 

Seek out Mental Health Support

Coping with the initial disappointment of potentially having to supplement breastmilk with formula can be challenging. Murphy-Higgs encouraged that there are numerous resources available that provide access to quality perinatal mental health support. She suggested moms utilize Postpartum Support International and FamilyWell Health.

Explore Alternative Feeding Methods 

For mothers who still wish to incorporate breastfeeding, Murphy-Higgs recommended techniques like pumping breast milk, using a nipple shield, or utilizing a supplemental nursing system (SNS). Moms can also try combination feeding (breastfeeding and formula feeding). Consulting a lactation consultant can provide guidance on these alternatives. 

Take Care of Yourself

Don’t forget to practice self-care along your feeding journey. Murphy-Higgs encouraged mom to engage in self-care activities that promote relaxation and well-being. Moms can exercise, meditate, practice hobbies, or spend time with supportive loved ones. 

“Prioritizing self-care is key to managing stress and improving overall resilience during this transition,” she added. 

Practice Self-Compassion

Be kind to yourself. Murphy-Higgs explained that it’s critical for a mom to recognize that feeding choices do not define her worth as a mother. 

“Each mother’s journey is unique, and what matters most is the health and well-being of both the mother and the baby,” she said.