Mom, it’s okay if you can’t (or don’t want to) breastfeed

Let’s face it, the topic of breastfeeding can be a minefield. Moms often feel judged and attacked if they don’t breastfeed. But what we often tend to forget is that in many cases moms can’t breastfeed because of medical conditions, and sometimes they simply don’t want to. And that’s okay – you have to do what works best for you and your baby. A happy mom equals a happy baby.

Breast milk is the best food for babies. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of an infant’s life, and continued breastfeeding with complementary foods for up to two years of age.

While breastfeeding is beneficial for both mom and baby, many South African women cannot, should not, or choose not to breastfeed.

ALSO SEE: 16 amazing benefits of breastfeeding for you and baby

Why not all moms breastfeed

Registered dietitian Megan Pentz-Kluyts says physiologically, 99% of moms can breastfeed – there are other reasons that discourage them from breastfeeding.

According to key findings in the most recent World Health Organization report and a South African Demographic and Health Survey, South Africa has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world, with only 32% of women breastfeeding infants under the age of six months.

“Reasons for these low figures include lack of breastfeeding knowledge and experience, lack of family and community support for breastfeeding, lack of public facilities for breastfeeding, challenges for working mothers to breastfeed in the workplace, including insufficient maternity leave and facilities at work that are not supportive of breastfeeding,” says Megan.

Physical reasons that could cause a mom to question her ability to breastfeed include:

Low breast milk supply

With treatment, most issues can be resolved, so a mother can build a milk supply. However, some problems may not be as easily resolved.

ALSO SEE: 20 foods that naturally increase your breast milk supply

Infectious disease

Many common infections are easily treated and don’t interfere with breastfeeding or harm the baby. Only if there are lesions with active infection on the breast area that is in contact with the baby, e.g. herpes, there is an increased risk of transmission to the baby. Always consult your healthcare professional.

ALSO SEE: Can I breastfeed if I get too sick with the coronavirus?


Many medications are compatible with breastfeeding, but some are not, for example chemotherapy drugs. Some medications can decrease the supply of breast milk, so it’s important to talk to your doctor or lactation consultant before starting a new medication and always let your healthcare provider know if you’re breastfeeding. If you have to take medicine, ask if it’s safe to use while you’re breastfeeding or if there’s an alternative that’s safe.

What are your options if you’re not able to breastfeed (or choose not to)?

Megan says moms should always consult with their healthcare providers either for assistance or information regarding breastfeeding. “If breastfeeding is not possible, your baby can get the nutrition they need from donor breast milk, infant formula, or special infant formula. Bonding and connections will strengthen each time you hold your child, talk to her, comfort her, and even feed her,” Megan says.

How do you know which formula is best for your baby?

Always speak to your healthcare professional for advice on the best formula for your baby. There are many different formulas that can meet your baby’s specific nutritional requirements. You need to find the one that works best for your baby.

“Like breast milk, formula is designed to deliver fluid for hydration; protein to provide amino acid building blocks for growth; carbohydrates to fuel the muscles, brain, and other organs; concentrated kilojoules of fat for energy; and various vitamins and minerals,” explains Megan.

“Fussing, crying, and spitting up are a normal part of infanthood, but if these behaviours seem excessive, especially if they’re combined with other symptoms such as a rash, congestion, or blood or mucus in your baby’s poop, you should consult your healthcare professional before switching formulas to identify the underlying cause of the problem,” says Megan.

You can also try goat milk

Breast milk is the best food for babies, but where breastfeeding is not possible, research shows that goat milk measures up well.

The Global Outlook & Forecast 2019–2024 on Goat Milk Powder by Arizton reported that, when comparing nutritional content between human breast milk, powdered goat milk and powdered cow milk, the goat milk is the best alternative to human breast milk.

A last word

“Moms are given the impression that it’s ‘all or nothing’ and this can actually turn moms away from breastfeeding. No one likes to be guilted into doing something. A mom who’s informed about breastfeeding and formula feeding can make the decision that best works for her. If formula is the decision, then she needs to ask her healthcare professional to assist her in giving her the information she needs, to give her baby the most appropriate formula choice available.”

More about the expert:

Megan Pentz-Kluyts is registered dietitian with a Masters in Nutrition. She owns her own Nutrition Consultancy, where she consults both hospital and private clients, on medicolegal cases, various health issues and sports nutrition. She also speaks at schools and has published numerous articles and a recipe book. Megan also performs food demonstrations. Learn more about Megan Pentz-Kluyts here.

Additional references:

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